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What I Wish Everyone Knew About My Friends With Down Syndrome

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One of my best friends has Down syndrome, and I have met and become friends with many others who also have it. I’ve experienced so many sideways looks just by being with my friends, and they are often left out or the subject of unfair comments. When they get included, they are treated like the “pet” with incredibly low expectations rather than being seen as just another friend.

Many people don’t understand the reality of what people with Down syndrome can accomplish, and I hope that these truths and myths can educate even just a couple people that it’s not as scary as society often makes it out to be.

Here are some of the myths I have heard most often:

1. Everyone with Down syndrome is always happy and smiling.

My friends are amazingly positive and funny, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel or can’t express the same emotions as everyone else. I’ve seen disappointment, confusion, sadness and anger from being left out, from struggling to understand a concept, and from experiencing the same upsetting events everyone else deals with when growing up.

2. People with Down syndrome don’t want to or can’t learn.

Reaching milestones takes longer, and learning to do things in school can be difficult and frustrating, but that doesn’t mean my friends don’t want to or can’t learn. They try so hard each and every day, and the smiles on their faces are huge when they recognize they have finally reached their goal.

3. People with Down syndrome don’t realize if they are being left out, and they don’t understand when people are talking about them.

Every person I have met who has Down syndrome wants to fit in. They realize when they aren’t able or allowed to do the same things as other kids, and they know when they are being talked about or talked down to.

4. The word “retard” isn’t hurtful if it’s said jokingly.

Like any derogatory word, it’s hurtful no matter how it’s said. It’s not fair to use a word that meant exclusion and segregation for so many as a joke. There are many other words to describe something that is annoying or silly that don’t implicate a large population of amazing people. Doctors usually don’t even use the word in diagnosing the level of disability anymore because it’s so stigmatizing.

Here is a poem I wrote as a tribute to my friends with Down syndrome.

The baby has Down syndrome.
Scientifically that means an added chromosome.
It’s number twenty one and she has three,
There are some common difficulties,
but there is no standard to guarantee.
The syndrome is named after a doctor with the last name Down.
Despite the myth, a person with it isn’t always a happy clown.
It’s true that they have some different facial features,
But it’s a complete myth that they can’t learn from their teachers.
Slanted eyes and a flat nose on her face
Don’t indicate what she can contribute in the workplace.
Being short and having low muscle tone
Don’t mean she should be bullied or feel alone.
She understands what you say,
So try to be friendly every day.
When you are trying to be funny, there’s one word that should be discarded
Doctors don’t use it anymore, and it’s simply unfair to use such a derogatory term as “retarded”
And maybe you’re scared to talk. You say she’s different; you don’t know how to.
I’ll give you a hint, it’s the same you always do when meeting someone new.
What amazing things you will see if you give her the opportunity,
For her love, attitudes, and opinions can certainly help the community.

Originally published: May 1, 2019
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