October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.
Down syndrome occurs when a person has three copies of the 21st chromosome. Due to the extra chromosome, people with Down syndrome are more likely to be born with a congenital heart defect, often have eyesight and hearing problems, have low muscle tone, and experience a mild to moderate cognitive delay.
However, individuals with Down syndrome are more alike than different!
They walk, talk, play games, use computers, read, do math, graduate from high school, are reliable employees, get married, drive cars and more.
When my youngest son was born, I didn’t know much about Down syndrome and I was scared for his future. Now that Ben is three years old, I wonder why I was worried. He’s a regular kid – idolizes (and annoys) his siblings, likes basketball and music (you should see him mimic “Let It Go” from Frozen). He has a lively sense of humor, and his smile will light up a room. He has great potential.
When I think about my fears for Ben, I find that I’m not exactly worried about Ben. Instead, I’m worried about other people. Will people make fun of him? Will other kids include him in their playtime? Will someone take advantage of him.
So let me speak to the mom readers who don’t have children with Down syndrome. Here’s what I want you to know:
- Please don’t stare. Smile, yes. Stare, no.
- It’s OK to recognize difference.
- If your daughter comments that Ben’s eyes look funny, or asks why he isn’t talking, she’s making an observation … trying to make sense of something out of the ordinary. You don’t need to be embarrassed or tell her to hush. Instead, I’d like for you to tell your child that everyone learns and develops in their own time. You could say hi to Ben, and you could ask him (or me) what Ben likes to do. I’m sure our kids have something in common.
- Ask questions!
- I’m glad to talk about Ben’s accomplishments – and some of his challenges.
- Think about your language.
- The R Word is hurtful. Don’t use it.
If you and your family want to learn more for Down syndrome awareness month, I highly recommend the following resources:
Just Like You – This video (available for free on youtube) is appropriate for older elementary and up. This includes interviews with three teens who have Down syndrome and three of their typical friends.
We’ll Paint the Octopus Red – This book is good for younger children (preschool through elementary). There’s a good list of questions and answers at the back. For example, children may want to know if you can grow out of Down syndrome or if it is contagious. This book is available at the McAllen Public Library.
Step UP for Down Syndrome – Bring your family to this Down Syndrome Awareness Walk. It’s a family friendly event – music, food, games, arts and crafts. This is a good opportunity to talk to your kids about being a friend to others – regardless of difference.
Check out the Rio Grande Valley Down Syndrome Association. You’ll meet many individuals with Down syndrome from around the Valley.