After appearing in a national advertisement for Target, a 6-year-old New Jersey boy with Down syndrome is making it big, attracting media attention from as far away as London.
Ryan Langston, sported an orange t-shirt and casual brown pants on page 9 of Target’s Jan. 1 circular, distributed in newspapers and at stores across the country.
But unlike the other child models appearing alongside him, Ryan has Down syndrome. His inclusion is drawing kudos from bloggers across the Web because the boy’s diagnosis was not mentioned in the ad and apparently played no role in his selection.
Since Ryan was pointed out in a posting on the blog Noah’s Dad, his story has gone viral. It’s been featured on the Today Show’s website, in Adweek and London’s The Daily Mail in recent days.
Now, speaking in their first interview, Ryan’s parents, Jim and Amanda Langston, told Disability Scoop that their son’s newfound celebrity has been crazy and they’re just soaking it all up.
They describe Ryan as a mellow kid who loves sports, playing Wii and horsing around with his twin brother, Ian, who’s typically developing. Modeling, they say, has been a blessing for Ryan, offering a level playing field where he can compete against the best of them and thrive.
“Ryan is very professional,” says his mom, Amanda Langston. “When he gets there and sees that he’s going to put on an outfit, he’s very into it. We love it for him because we started to see how he responded to it. He’s so proud of himself and it is a huge confidence booster.”
The Target circular was not Ryan’s first foray in front of the camera and it’s not likely to be his last. Last summer, he appeared in a Nordstrom catalog. And Target recently asked the boy’s parents for additional photos so they can consider him for future shoots.
Ryan has been called in for other jobs as well, but his parents say they’ve always put school first and lots of modeling gigs conflict with the boy’s schedule at the private, special education school he attends.
Traditionally, models with disabilities have appeared in advertisements targeted to the special needs community such as the annual Toys “R” Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids. But Ryan’s story is just one more example of how things may be starting to change. A 14-month-old British girl with Down syndrome recently made headlines after landing modeling deals with a global toy store and a clothing shop for which she competed against typically developing kids. Similarly, Ryan has been included in mainstream ads exclusively.
For their part, representatives of Target Corp. say that Ryan’s appearance in their ad is part of the company’s long-running effort to reflect diversity.
“Target is committed to diversity and inclusion in every aspect of our business, including our advertising campaigns,” company spokeswoman Jessica Carlson said in a statement. “Target has included people with disabilities in our advertising for many years and will continue to feature people that represent the diversity of communities across the country.”
As for Ryan, he’s thrilled seeing his photo in major advertisements and plastered across the Internet alike, his parents say.
“He’s so proud of it,” says Ryan’s dad Jim Langston. “When we got the Target circular this week and I showed him on page 9, he blushed and said ‘that’s me.'”
And that’s making for a couple of proud parents too.
“The greatest thing that Nordstrom and Target are doing is that they’re not making any reference to his disability. He’s just another cute kid,” says Jim Langston. “As parents, it’s a bit of a victory lap for us because the first three months of his life were pretty tough. He was in the hospital, then he went home for a while, then he had open heart surgery when he was 3 months old. He had a pretty tough start and to see him now at this point is kind of a pat on the back.”