Why I Believe We Should Not Underestimate People With Down Syndrome
Practically every day I get the joy of reading wonderful stories about persons with Down syndrome achieving something great. From starting a business, living independently, learning to drive or taking exams. What I’ve also noticed are negative opinions from people who have no experience with Down syndrome and I’ve even heard it from mothers of children who have Down syndrome. The opinion I’m talking about is any variation of the following:
“That person is not a true representation of someone with Down syndrome. They are high functioning, when many more are low functioning.”
Well, to me that’s rubbish, absolute and total rubbish. Of course there are different levels of abilities, there are negatives and it can be hard. But isn’t it true that every single person on this earth has different abilities? We are all different, and that applies to people with Down syndrome, too. That’s exactly how it’s meant to be.
What I find unrealistic is the outdated and extremely inaccurate portrayal of people with Down syndrome as lacking the ability to learn or have any kind of good quality of life. It was not so long ago people with Down syndrome were institutionalized — deemed unfit and unworthy to be a part of society. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve come so far since those times, and I regularly state that 2017 is a great year to be born with Down syndrome. There are so many more opportunities and I believe eventually things will change. But there are still so many obstacles and negative opinions to overcome. This is what can make our advocacy efforts so hard.
When we try to show the world just what our children are capable of, but get shut down with, “Yes that’s all well and good, but that’s the sparkly side. What about the other side?”
Well what about it? Yes there is another side. There are children with Down syndrome who may have a lower functioning ability. As parents we may face hard times and downsides (including other people’s misconceptions), but in my opinion, Down syndrome isn’t that scary. It just isn’t.
Something I struggle to get my head around is why society seems so determined to view Down syndrome as such a horrific thing. Every day we are seeing proof that people with Down syndrome can have many successes, yet still some people refuse to celebrate. They refuse to acknowledge they may be wrong in their perceptions. And I’m not talking about all of society, through River’s social media pages I’ve learned there are a huge amount of people who value his life and see his worth and beauty. I’m so thankful to every single one of them. But it’s still reality that a majority of women with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome choose to terminate. These are not accidental babies, they are not mistakes; these are planned pregnancies and very much wanted babies, yet their parents might believe life with Down syndrome is so awful that it’s better to not have the baby.
It seems as if society has had it ingrained in them that people with Down syndrome cannot live full lives and those who do are in the minority. It seems some people think we shouldn’t see the best in people with Down syndrome or have high expectations of them because not all of them will be able to achieve great things.
All children with Down syndrome will be different, and that’s OK. All “typical” children will be different, and that’s OK. Some “typical” people might become brain surgeons, pilots or lawyers, while others might work checkouts, wait tables and clean toilets. Some might even become homeless or drug addicts. In the “typical” world those differences won’t make you any less worthy of life, love or respect. Why should they for people with Down syndrome?
I think the only way to change society’s perceptions is for parents to believe in their children and show the world what they are capable of. We need to believe in our children and enable them to be the best that they can be. Whether they pass exams, learn to drive, live independently, find employment or start a business. And even if they are unable to do any of these things,they are not less important, worthy, wonderful or valuable. Every person on this earth is good at something, we just need to find out what it is and nurture it. It may be something academic, or cooking, dancing, art, technology or singing. It may be making people laugh, being a great friend, a good listener or giving the best shoulders to cry on. Whatever it is, we should expect the best and see the potential in our children and what they can achieve. We should fight for their place in society and fight to show their worth. We should let our children be exactly who they are meant to be, and be proud of whatever they achieve — every single thing. Whatever our child’s functioning ability is, we shouldn’t limit them. We should show them even when society chooses to limit them, we never will. We should never stop believing in our children. Ever.
And if you are a parent of a child without Down syndrome, teach them to accept all differences and see the worth of all people. Teach them that everybody in this world has value, regardless of disabilities and intellect. Teach them to love with their whole hearts; love with all of yours. Because I believe this is how society is going to change.
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