Down Syndrome Awareness Month:
“We’re More Alike Than Different”
by Sam Johnson
Since 1981, the month of October has been recognized as “National Down Syndrome Awareness Month” with proclamations from presidents, governors, and mayors.
This year is no different.
Special interest groups such as the National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC), the National Association for Down Syndrome (NADS), and “the ARC,” along with hundreds of their affiliate organizations, are sponsoring public presentations, distributing public service information and announcements, and conducting special activities such as “the Buddy Walk.”
In each case, the goal is the same: to promote awareness that “We’re More Alike Than Different,” and that people with Down syndrome are capable people with many different abilities and interests.
Here is what these groups want us to know:
Down syndrome is a relatively common genetic disorder which affects one in 800 newborns. It occurs when an individual has three, instead of two copies of chromosome 21.
As a result of the additional genetic material, individuals with Down syndrome experience developmental difficulties. While the range of mental disability ranges from minimal to severe, the majority of cases fall within the mild to moderate range.
Down syndrome knows no barriers of race, nationality, social class or religion. Over 400,000 people in the United States are living with Down syndrome, and many others' lives are touched by this genetic disorder.
It is estimated that each Federal Congressional District has within its membership approximately 600 people with Down syndrome. These individuals are valued citizens. Many hold down jobs, actively participate in their community, pay taxes, and vote.
It’s amazing to think that less than 35 years ago, many people with Down syndrome were routinely institutionalized.
Thanks to the work of parents and advocacy groups (like those mentioned above), medical advances, early intervention, classroom inclusion, increased opportunities, and loving support of families and communities, individuals with Down syndrome can and do live healthy, happy, and fulfilling lives. Many graduate from high school and some attend college. Many are employed, and perform their jobs in an exemplary way. Gifted artists, actors, musicians, and athletes are among those who also happen to have Down syndrome.
Yet, many myths, misunderstandings, and much misinformation still exist, which may contribute to unfortunate stereotyping.
• Myth: Down syndrome is a debilitating disease or affliction.
Truth: Down syndrome is a trait. It is NOT a disease or affliction. It is something an individual is born with like blue eyes or brown hair, a sparkling smile, or a great personality.
• Myth: Most children with Down syndrome are born to older parents.
Truth: Eighty percent of children born with Down syndrome are born to women younger than the age of 35 due to the higher fertility rates. However, research has shown a link between the incidence of Down syndrome and maternal age.
• Myth: Down syndrome is hereditary and runs in families.
Truth: Most cases of Down syndrome are sporadic, chance events. In general, the incidence of having a second child with Down syndrome is about one in 100.
• Myth: There is little community support for bringing up a child with Down syndrome.
Truth: In almost every community of the U.S. there are parent support groups and other community organizations directly involved in providing services to families of individuals with Down syndrome.
• Myth: Adults with Down syndrome cannot form relationships, marry or have children.
Truth: People with Down syndrome date and marry and it is possible for women with Down syndrome to have children. There is a 50 percent chance that the child will have Down syndrome. While extremely rare, men with Down syndrome can father children.
• Myth: Adults with Down syndrome are unemployable.
Truth: Businesses are seeking young adults with Down syndrome for a variety of positions. They are employed in offices by banks, corporations, nursing homes, hotels and restaurants. They work in the music and entertainment industry. People with Down syndrome bring to their jobs enthusiasm, reliability and dedication.
As with so many things, education, familiarity, and awareness are the keys to dispelling the many myths and misconceptions about Down syndrome, and to realizing that we are all “More Alike Than Different.”
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