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Did you know that October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month? If you’re not fortunate enough to already have a person with Down Syndrome in your life, now is as good a time as ever to get out there and make some friends. You may be surprised by what you’ve been missing out on all this time: the reality is that people with Down Syndrome are just like you.
You may feel unsure about approaching or befriending someone who looks or acts differently from you. However, a sense of uncertainty about the unknown can be easily resolved by taking a little time to increase your knowledge and understanding, thereby becoming a more empathetic, understanding, and accepting person. And there’s no better month than October, Down Syndrome Awareness Month, to take those steps to become a more open and compassionate--and aware--person.
What is Down Syndrome Awareness Month all about? In this article, we’ll break down why such a month needs to exist as well as help to demonstrate to you how you can make a difference in the lives of others--and maybe even in your own life.
October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month
What is Down Syndrome Awareness Month? In this section, we’ll explore a little deeper into what this special month is all about. In many cases, feelings of uncertainty around people with Down Syndrome are due to a lack of knowledge surrounding what the condition truly entails. That’s why an awareness month exists: to help people expand their understanding of Down Syndrome and live more harmoniously with others who may have the condition.
One Down Syndrome advocacy organization, Up With Downs, puts it this way: “During the month of October, we celebrate people with Down syndrome and make people aware of our abilities and accomplishments. It’s not about celebrating disabilities, it’s about celebrating abilities.”
People with Down Syndrome have a wide array of abilities. Yes, people with Down Syndrome can have a rich and vibrant social life! They can also go on to lead full lives, complete with career, marriage, friendships, and hobbies.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at the condition so that you can receive a deeper and more sympathetic understanding of what this syndrome entails, how it happens, and what it means.
What is Down Syndrome?
So you know that October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month… but what, exactly, is Down Syndrome? One of the first steps in becoming more aware is to read up on the condition and understand what it means for someone to have Down Syndrome.
According to the CDC, “Down syndrome is a condition in which a person has an extra chromosome. … Typically, a baby is born with 46 chromosomes. Babies with Down syndrome have an extra copy of one of these chromosomes, chromosome 21. … Down syndrome is also referred to as Trisomy 21. This extra copy changes how the baby’s body and brain develop, which can cause both mental and physical challenges for the baby.”
In short, Down Syndrome is a genetic condition that occurs at a chromosome level. It is not a disease or something that is contagious. Instead, it is merely a condition that can occur due to an extra copy of a particular chromosome. And did you know that Down Syndrome is the most common chromosomal condition in the United States? Down Syndrome occurs in 1 out of every 700 babies, approximately, so the condition is a lot more common than you might think.
The article continues, “Even though people with Down syndrome might act and look similar, each person has different abilities. People with Down syndrome usually have an IQ (a measure of intelligence) in the mildly-to-moderately low range and are slower to speak than other children.”
It’s important to realize that not everyone with Down Syndrome has the same range of abilities, IQ, or general prognosis. Some may go on to lead relatively independent lives, able to hold jobs, pursue careers and passions, and even live on their own. Others may require care for their entire life. The outlook for each person with Down Syndrome is different and depends on the severity of the condition as well as environmental factors and general community support.
Still, while each person with Down Syndrome is different, it can be easy to recognize someone with Down Syndrome, as most people with Down Syndrome have similar features. People with Down Syndrome can often be distinguished by a flattened face, almond-shaped eyes that slant upward, a short neck, and small ears, hands, and feet. In addition, they are generally shorter in height than their peers and sometimes have poor muscle tone and loose joints. It is possible for a person with Down Syndrome to be born with additional birth defects or medical problems, but it is not the case for everyone.
How does Down Syndrome happen? What causes Down Syndrome?
There are three different types of Down Syndrome, which don’t display much difference on the outside and mostly are only visible on the chromosomal level. While we know that Down Syndrome is caused by that extra chromosome 21, we don’t know why it happens or what factors lead to its occurrence. It is simply something that takes place as the fetus is developing in the womb, and it is not yet known what causes it, if anything.
The CDC does share one potential risk factor that leads to higher instances of Down Syndrome: “One factor that increases the risk for having a baby with Down syndrome is the mother’s age. Women who are 35 years or older when they become pregnant are more likely to have a pregnancy affected by Down syndrome than women who become pregnant at a younger age.” It is possible to test in utero for whether the baby has a lower or higher chance of having Down Syndrome.
Is there a cure for Down Syndrome? Unfortunately not. It is not likely that there will be a “cure” since Down Syndrome is not a disease but rather a lifelong condition that a person is born with. It’s unlikely that science will ever find a way to reverse these developmental differences, but nothing it outside the realm of possibility. Instead of a cure, people with Down Syndrome receive treatment in the form of additional support to assist them in realizing their full potential.
However, while there is no cure for Down Syndrome, read on to find out why that might not be such a bad thing.
People with Down Syndrome are just like you
Keeping up with the daily news can feel like a lot of doom and gloom. However, occasionally we see happy, uplifting stories come across our devices, and a heartwarming story published by CBC News certainly fits that bill.
The article reads, “The Vancouver Canucks may have landed themselves a young prospect with a lot more than just on-ice depth. Brock Boeser, the team’s 2015 first round draft pick, took Baylee Bjorge, a big fan who was born with Down syndrome, to her prom on Saturday night. ‘Amazing!’ said Bjorge about the experience. ‘One of my friends was jealous.’ It left the twenty-year-old young woman from Grand Forks, North Dakota, with ‘sweet dreams,’ said her mother Katie Marcotte.” Bjorge was a homecoming queen and asked Boeser to accompany her to prom through Instagram. He agreed and they shared a sweet night together enjoying the festivities.
Their story is one of hundreds of others just like it. What is clear through the many inspiring stories about people with Down Syndrome is that while they are expected or stigmatized to live a life of limitations, the reality is that in many cases, they can do anything the average person can do.
In fact, there’s even a film called Just Like You – Down Syndrome, which explains and demonstrates that people with Down Syndrome are not so different from the rest of us. The website states, “Just Like You – Down Syndrome explores the life, hopes, challenges and dreams of three kids living with Down syndrome. Elyssa, Rachel, and Sam share personal stories to help viewers better understand their condition and why they wish to be treated just like you. Each of our stars has their own talents, characteristics, strengths and challenges. Down syndrome is just one part of who they are, and this film identifies how to handle and accommodate differences while celebrating the many similarities our friends with Down syndrome have with their peers. … Elyssa, Rachel and Sam look straight into the camera and into the eyes of their audience to tell them exactly what it feels like to be a kid with Down syndrome and what you can do to support them and be a friend.”
Hopefully, with films and efforts like this in circulation, the world will express more inclusion and acceptance of people who may look different on the outside but who may turn out to be a true friend. By increasing knowledge about Down Syndrome, we can break down barriers and help others who are unlike us seem less unfamiliar, thereby increasing understanding and opening your heart and mind.
One woman with Down Syndrome shares her story--and what she wants people to know during awareness month--on the National Down Syndrome Society website:
“The month of October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month where we celebrate Down syndrome and let everyone know our abilities and that we are capable of doing anything we set our minds to. I would like everyone to call us differently abled as opposed to retarded (hate that word), handicapped (almost as bad) or someone with an intellectual developmental disability (sounds like science to me) because just about every one of us is differently abled in some way. We have the same wants and dreams as everyone else. We can do anything anyone else can do. We are more alike than we are different. I can drive, go to college, maintain a job as the Manager of Grassroots Advocacy at the National Down Syndrome Society and be the first registered lobbyist with Down syndrome. We want to date and get married. We want the American Dream, same as anyone else. My friends that are differently abled do things equally as well. My friend Johnny is self-taught and plays the bagpipes, my friend Byron can sing like nobody’s business, my friend Carrie is a Zumba instructor. The point is, we all have the same abilities as everyone else, we may take longer to do them, but that is okay. We just try our best and our hardest. That’s all we want everyone to be aware of and please don’t squash our dreams!”
Down Syndrome may be classified as a disability, but people with Down Syndrome have far more abilities than you might think, as well as expanded capacities for special skills and talents that people without the condition might never have.
Making a difference during Down Syndrome Awareness Month
So, what can you do? It all starts with educating yourself and becoming more aware of what Down Syndrome is and what life is like for people with Down Syndrome. From there, you can begin to use different language surrounding the condition--for example, “differently abled” is appropriate and “retarded” is not--and educate others around you, too.
As you increase your compassion and knowledge around Down Syndrome, you can make big ripples of impact by sharing what you’ve learned with your friends, family, and community. The more people understand Down Syndrome, the less people with the condition will be stigmatized, misunderstood, or treated poorly.
Another way you can make a difference is to sign up for a local Buddy Walk. That’s just one way to get involved in the Down Syndrome community. You can look for local organizations that advocate for or support people with Down Syndrome and get involved however they need you, whether that is financial donations or donations of time or effort.
To make a difference during this special month, all it takes is to get out there, get involved, get educated, and lend a hand wherever you can. You might find that you make a friend or two in the process--and come out with your life improved far more drastically than you ever expected. You may have set out to make a difference in the lives of others this month, but by the end, you may find that the real difference made is in you.
Skye Sherman is a professional writer who has been published in numerous local and international outlets. She has also worked for a wellness company and is very familiar with the healthcare industry. She holds a degree from a Florida university.
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