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It's Time to Bust Myths for Down Syndrome Awareness Month

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October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month and in honor of my son Laksh and other amazing people just like him, we are having a celebration on our Instagram page.

When Laksh was born, I did find myself leaning on Dr. Google to help me find some facts about Down syndrome. Being a physical therapist, I was aware of Down syndrome but I had never come across anyone in real life who had Down syndrome until Laksh. I was shocked to see some not so accurate and honestly antiquated information, and it worried me.

Some sites downright made Down syndrome look like a punishment for the child and his/her family, which it is not. So I decided to start a social media page for Laksh so I could show people what it really looks like to have a child with Down syndrome today. On these platforms, I connected with so many amazing families who have been on this journey longer than we have and it has blown my mind.

Everything I wanted for my child is possible. It might take a bit longer, but who is in a rush anyway?

I would also like to take this opportunity to bust these myths I kept reading online.

Myths vs. Facts

Myth: Most children with Down syndrome are born to older parents.

Fact: Most children with Down syndrome are born to women younger than 35 years old simply because younger women have more children. However, the likelihood of having a child with Down syndrome increases with the age of the mother, especially after age 35.

Myth: All people with Down syndrome have a severe cognitive disability.

Fact: Most people with Down syndrome have a mild to moderate cognitive disability, or intellectual disability. This is not indicative of the many strengths and talents each individual possesses.

Myth: People with Down syndrome cannot be active members of their community.

Fact: People with Down syndrome are active participants in educational, social and recreational activities. They are included in the typical education system and take part in sports, music, art programs and any other activities in the community. People with Down syndrome are valued members of their families and communities, make meaningful contributions to society, and many are proud business owners.

Myth: Scientists know everything there is to know about Down syndrome.

Fact: Though we know that an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21 causes the characteristics of Down syndrome, researchers are making great strides in identifying how individual genes on chromosome 21 affect a person with Down syndrome.

Myth: Segregated special education programs are the only option for students with Down syndrome.

Fact: Students with Down syndrome are included in typical academic classrooms in schools across the country. The current trend in education is for full inclusion in social and educational settings. Sometimes students with Down syndrome are included in specific courses, while in other situations students are fully included in the typical classroom for all subjects. Increasingly, individuals with Down syndrome graduate from high school with diplomas, and participate in post secondary academic and college programs.

Myth: Adults with Down syndrome are the same as children with Down syndrome.

Fact: Adults with Down syndrome are not children, and should not be considered children. They enjoy activities and companionship with other adults, and have similar needs and feelings as their typical peers.

Myth: Adults with Down syndrome are unable to form close interpersonal relationships leading to marriage.

Fact: People with Down syndrome socialize and have meaningful friendships. Some choose to date, maintain ongoing relationships and marry.

Myth: It is OK to use the “r-word” if you don’t really mean it.

Fact: It is never acceptable to use the word “retarded” in any derogatory context. Using this word is hurtful and suggests that people with disabilities are not competent.

Myth: Adults with Down syndrome are unemployable.

Fact: Businesses employ adults with Down syndrome for a variety of positions – in banks, corporations, hotels, hospitals, nursing homes, offices and restaurants. They work in the music and entertainment industry, in clerical positions, childcare, the sports field and the computer industry, to name a few. Like anybody else, people with Down syndrome want to have a job where their work will be valued.

Myth: People with Down syndrome are always sick.

Fact: Though people with Down syndrome are at an increased risk for certain medical conditions such as congenital heart defects, respiratory and hearing problems, and thyroid conditions, advances in health care and treatment of these conditions have allowed for most individuals with Down syndrome to lead healthy lives.

Myth: Down syndrome is a rare disorder.

Fact: Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition. Approximately one in every 700 babies in the United States is born with Down syndrome, or around 6,000 births per year.

Myth: People with Down syndrome are always happy and affectionate.

Fact: We are all individuals and people with Down syndrome are no different to anyone else in their character traits, varying moods and ability to feel all kinds of emotions.

Myth: People with Down syndrome all look the same.

Fact: There are certain physical characteristics that can occur. People with Down syndrome can have all of them or none. A person with Down syndrome will always look more like his or her close family than someone else with the condition.

Myth: People with Down syndrome do not live very long.

Fact: Today, with the medical treatments available, people with Down syndrome can look forward to living a long and fulfilling life.

Myth: Down syndrome is hereditary and runs in families.

Fact: Translocation, a type of Down syndrome that accounts for 3 to 4 percent of all cases, is the only type of Down syndrome known to have a hereditary component. Of those, one third (or 1 percent of all cases of Down syndrome) are hereditary.

I have used the National Down Syndrome Society fact sheets as a guideline to create this list.

To show your support, you can wear yellow and/or blue anytime in the month of October or just any time at all, and tag Laksh on Facebook or Instagram.

Originally published: October 16, 2019
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