What is Down Syndrome?
It’s easy to do a google search to find the definition of Down syndrome and read medical terms and other hard-to-understand lingo. You might already know that people with Down Syndrome have three copies of chromosome 21, you might even know that World Down Syndrome Awareness Day is on March 21 each year (that’s today!), but none of those facts tell you anything about a person with Down syndrome.
Just like no two people without Down syndrome are the same, no two people with Down syndrome are the same.
Although having an extra 21st chromosome causes people with Down syndrome to have some similar physical characteristics, such as almond-shaped eyes, small ears, and a flatter facial profile, they don’t all look the same. In fact, people with Down syndrome look much more like their families than they do other people with Down syndrome. Check out this blog post from a few years ago by our friend, Andi Sligh, who shared her reader’s photos of their own children with Down syndrome with her.
Their personality characteristics vary, as well. Think of the different personality traits that typical people have and you have just as many traits that can occur in people with Down syndrome – they can be funny, sarcastic, indifferent, ambitious, laid back, high strung, loving… the list could go on forever.
Not everyone has had the opportunity to get to know someone with Down syndrome, and you don’t need to feel guilty if that’s the case. It’s also understandable if perhaps you’ve been a bit hesitant to reach out to someone with Down syndrome to get to know them better, because you’re afraid you’ll do or say the wrong thing. That’s okay, too.
For World Down Syndrome Day, I encourage you to learn more about the person, not just the disability. Do the things you would do when trying to get to know anyone else – find out what they like, what they hate, what they want to do when they get older (or what they’re doing now, in the case of an adult), what their plans and dreams are. I promise you, while you might guess at some of the answers, others will take you completely by surprise.
To learn more about World Down Syndrome Day, visit worlddownsyndromeday.org.
Jessie Nelson Willis, M.Ed., CCC-SLP