Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Down Syndrome Awareness Month

October is Down syndrome Awareness Month - the whole purpose is to do just that - bring awareness to our communities about Down syndrome.  This month gives us all a really great opportunity to dispel some myths about Down syndrome, and share some truths - without hurting feelings or getting in your face.  

Say huh?!  Listen, sometimes - people are insensitive.  The way they talk, the words they choose, the messages they convey.  Sometimes, people hurt us.  And while we might want to explain right then & there that they've hurt us....well, it usually isn't the best time or place.  And it usually won't be received very well.  And we'll end up looking like the crazy, ultra-sensitive mom on the playground.  So we keep quiet.  And we wait for Down syndrome Awareness Month.


Bring on the awareness.  


First, a lesson in grammar. 

It took me a long time (even after Carter came home) to understand why the way in which we speak can be hurtful.  We prefer if you use something called 'People First Language'.  

"Cuz, guys, I'm a people.  Not a diagnosis or a syndrome."
{February 2012}
Please don't write this off as 'politically correct mumbo-jumbo'.  It's much more than that.  It looks like this: "A child with Down syndrome came to the party.".  We acknowledge the person first (in this case, 'child'), then the diagnosis.  We avoid saying "A Down syndrome child..." or "A Downs child...".  


It's degrading.  Would you ever say 'A cancer child' or 'An ADHD kid'?  No.  Or, at least, I hope not.  It immediately classifies the person as not 'normal' by talking about them based on their diagnosis.  

When this happens, I cringe a little.  I don't call it out, because as I said before, it took me a long time to understand why this is hurtful.  But I cringe a little, and I wonder if the person speaking understands that they are talking about a living, breathing little boy (who is usually standing at my side).  

{February 2013}
If I had it my way, people would just say "Carter came to the party." (Look at him.  Who wouldn't want this kid at their party?!).  

Because really, he's just Carter.  


Now that you know how to speak about people with Down syndrome (or special needs, in general), let's have a lesson in how to speak TO them.

Here's a good place to start: "Hi, Carter! How are you? Can I have a high-five? Thanks, bud!".

{July 2013}
I love - love - love to see people treating Carter like a 5 year old boy.  I know it can be scary.  I know you may have never met or interacted with someone who has Down syndrome before.  I used to be scared, too.  I promise, if you take the time to get to know him, you're going to like what you see.  And you're going to want more.  

This goes for adults with Down syndrome, too.  Don't worry about how to say something, or if you're talking loud enough, or whether they'll understand you.  Chances are, they see you coming and they're wondering why you won't just say "Good morning" with a smile, like you do for everyone else.  

Individuals with Down syndrome can smell a phony a mile away.  Just be real.  Just be you.  Just talk to them like you'd talk to anyone else.  

"Hi!" is usually a good place to start.  


Here are a few facts about MY kid with Down syndrome.

Carter has 3 copies of the 21st chromosome.  You and I only have 2.  One teeny tiny little chromosome is the difference.  

That little extra chromosome means, basically, that it takes Carter longer to learn things (except those things that we don't want him to learn - like when a certain someone told him his poop looked like a banana, and now every time he poops, he says "Poop!  Banana!".  TMI?  You can thank Uncle Ben.).

Here's something that Carter learned very, very quickly :)
{July 2013}
Lots of people with Down syndrome have low muscle tone (not Carter), heart defects (not Carter), thyroid conditions (not Carter)....the bottom line?

Each person with Down syndrome is a unique individual.  Each person, like Carter, has likes and dislikes.  Each person with Down syndrome has their own personality, their own struggles, their own strengths & weaknesses.....

....each person with Down syndrome is a person.  Like you and me.  


Throughout the month of October, I'll be posting some facts about Down syndrome on my personal Facebook page and here, too.  

Let's learn and raise awareness, together.  

One Thing I Know For Sure: More alike than different.

{Somewhat weepy side note: TWO years ago this week, we were doing this and this and this.}

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