Let’s  discuss the cool genetic trait called Brushfield Spots.

Brushfield spots are small, white or off-white specks or spots that circle the iris, which is the colored part of the eye. They can also appear sporadically or be distributed irregularly.

Staring at Marcus’ Eyes

I was one of those moms who stared at her baby constantly. I marveled at him. Luckily, my friends also enjoyed this pastime. Maybe because we were all in college and broke. Staring at Marcus staring at the ceiling fan or lying next to him and staring at the ceiling fan was a hobby we could all afford.

In those first few months, I watched his deep blue eyes, expecting them to change into brown, hazel, or something in between, like mine. After he turned a year old, I celebrated the knowledge: Those deep blue eyes are here to stay!

*Sidebar: Neither of Marcus’ genetic parents have blue eyes. So, it was a pleasant surprise to me that I carry that/those gene(s). I happen to be “studying,” for lack of a better term, eye color for other fiction and non-fiction projects, which led me to the interesting discovery that blue eyes are 1) becoming increasingly rare in our part of the world, and 2) There is evidence that as many as 16 different genes could be responsible for eye color in humans. Thank you, Wikipedia!

Since the first time I wrote this post, I have also discovered, very unscientifically, an unusually high percentage of people with Down syndrome have blue eyes. However, it’s not the blue we’re speaking of today; it’s the stars.

Learning About Brushfield Spots

A few months after his first birthday, Marcus was at an evaluation of some sort with several clinical and, quite frankly, scary-looking people, and one of them used the term: “Brushfield spots.”

“What?” I leaned closer.

“Brushfield Spots.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The tiny white spots around the iris of his eyes.”

Have you never looked at your son’s eyes, woman? The clinical person squinted with this attitude at me. Then he pointed out the tiny white spots circling the pupil of Marcus’ eyes.

Ahhh, the sparkle!

I swear this person told me there are 21. 21 stars in a perfect circle to match the 21st chromosome connection.

That’s the way I remember it, but further research has shown that the number and distribution of Brushfield spots around the iris varies by individual. Some people have just a few spots, stars, or highlights, we’ll call them, while others may have more. Also, interestingly, anyone may be born with Brushfield spots, but it’s far more common in people with Down syndrome.

I rushed home and showed my grandmother. I stared at his little face and those big blue eyes and saw clearly the small white stars that created the depth and sparkle I so loved. I never isolated them from the whole, so I never saw them before. But now, holy wow! There are many little blessings, even physiological blessings, that that 21st chromosome kicks in now and then.

They say that the Brushfield spots don’t affect a person’s vision, but do you know what? I think Marcus sees the world in a different light. Maybe it does have something to do with the stars in his eyes..


This is a reboot post originally posted in July of 2013. Since then Marcus has published his first story-book for children, taught kids across the country, spoken at the UN, and walked the red carpet with Marissa Tomei and other superstars!  

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