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The One Stereotype About Down Syndrome I'm Tired of Hearing


Friends, I am the proud elder sister of a young man with Down syndrome, so I’m “a little” interested in the topic. When I see yet another viral article about someone with Down syndrome — usually because they did something normal, like attend a high school dance — I have to brace myself. I know it’s coming.

“Oh, I just love Downs kids! They’re all so happy and affectionate!”

Oof. I don’t have the words to describe how irritating it is to hear this stereotype repeated again and again.

I suspect it comes from ignorance and lack of exposure. If the only person with Down syndrome Bob Unaware knows is Jackson, a happy, personable guy who bags groceries at the local store, I can see how old Bob might just chalk that up to the Down syndrome and never give it a second thought.

The last time I had this conversation (and by conversation, I mean comment section battle), someone suggested I should just let this stand because, “at least it’s a positive stereotype.”

Is it, though? I don’t see it that way at all, and here are a few reasons why.

1. I have some shocking news for the Bob Unawares of the world: people with Down syndrome are individual human beings.

They have their own personalities, just like any other group of people with one thing in common. Their feelings, temperaments and preferences vary. They’re all completely different people!

2. Their emotional lives are no less rich and complex than anyone else’s.

People with Down syndrome feel excitement, shame, joy, humiliation, pride, contentment, boredom, sadness, frustration and love (all kinds of love) like any other human. Even the Jacksons of the world get hangry or tired.

3. Portraying all people with Down syndrome as being always happy reduces them to a universal, one dimensional caricature.

It ignores their differing personalities, and in my view, that’s pretty dehumanizing. Disrespectful. Infantilizing. Simplistic. People with Down syndrome are people. I’m running out of ways to say that. I wish people would see Jackson as Jackson, a human being, rather than a reflection of everyone else with Down syndrome. Let’s assume Jackson is happy and gregarious because he is Jackson — not because he has Down syndrome.

My brother has Down syndrome. He is a joy and a treasure. I want the same things for him that we all want for our loved ones: I want him to live a life of dignity and happiness. I want him to be as free as is possible. I don’t want him held back or boxed in by outdated and ridiculous ideas like this one.

Ignoring the humanity of people with Down syndrome and the fantastic diversity among them is anything but positive, and I refuse to let it stand.

Follow Natalie Anderson on Twitter or Medium.

Getty image by TolgaMadan