...awareness of what Down syndrome is, what it means to have Down syndrome and how people with Down syndrome play a vital role in our lives and communities.
Each year the voices of people with Down syndrome and their advocates grow louder. It is without a doubt that more people are now aware of the condition, but since the birth of my youngest girl who has Down syndrome, I have heard many comments that highlight the misconceptions some of us still hold, myself included.
This year, the WDSD campaign “My Friends, My Community” focuses on the benefits of inclusive environments for all our children, to prepare them for life as an adult, and enabling adults with Down syndrome to live independent lives, fully included in their society alongside their friends and peers.
To build inclusive environments for our children and adults with Down syndrome, we must first understand them better. With a better understanding, we can then break barriers and start building the culture of acceptance and inclusion. Here are 8 things we wish you know about our loved ones who have Down syndrome. The list is drawn from the experiences of Moms who have children with the condition.
1. “They are all so cheerful and loving!”
Myth: People with Down syndrome are always happy.
Truth: Every person with Down syndrome has his own unique personality, just like every other typically developing child. Although they are often seen with a smile, each child has his own emotional moments too. They have feelings just like every one of us - they experience sadness, anger, fear etc. too.
2. “Oh that’s so cute!
He actually knows what you want
Myth: Children with Down syndrome cannot understand what you are saying.
Truth: We tend to equate speech level with the level of cognition one has. Children with Down syndrome do understand what you are saying but they may not be able to articulate as well as a child their age should due to lower muscle tone at the mouth area. Sometimes it could just be that they are not ready to do so yet. Hence, children with Down syndrome may use other forms of communication e.g. signing or other non-verbal cues.
3. “Why is he so reluctant to move?”
Myth: People with Down syndrome are lazy and not motivated to participate in any sports.
Truth: Due to medical conditions such as muscle hypotonia (low muscle tone) and heart conditions, they are weaker compared with other children. But given time, they are able to engage in more physical activities as they get stronger.
4. “They will suffer when they grow up."
“They won’t be able to get a job.”
Myth: People with Down syndrome have no place in Singapore's fast-paced meritocratic society.
Truth: Each person, with or without disabilities, has his own innate talents and abilities. With the support and nurture of the caregivers and friends, people with Down syndrome will learn to be independent and can contribute to different aspects of community life: in music, in arts, in their workplaces.
5. “Do you know that some of them can
read and write?”
Myth: Children with Down syndrome cannot be educated.
Truth: Each of us has our learning style and we learn at a different pace. A lot of research shows that teaching reading and writing to our children is most effective when teachers are well trained, and have high expectations of their students while adequately supporting their progress. With patience, proper guidance and & instruction from the caregivers and teachers, our children with Down syndrome will be able to read and & write.
6. “I didn’t know schools accept children
with Down syndrome!”
Myth: Children with Down syndrome cannot attend mainstream schools.
Truth: With early intervention and various learning support systems, our children can benefit from mainstream education. An integrative learning environment that embraces the children as unique individuals with different gifts will allow them to learn at their own pace, achieving their potential. There are also success stories of children with Down syndrome who have passed the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination).
7. “I taught a girl with Down syndrome and
she was so disruptive in class…”
“They all love music…”
Myth: People with Down syndrome are all alike.
Truth: Because of the extra copy of the 21st chromosome, people with Down syndrome may have similar facial features. Yet, like any other individual, they have their own talents, likes and dislikes. Their development may be complicated by medical conditions , but like all other people, they learn and blossom with the right guidance and support.
8. “Why did you continue your pregnancy
knowing he’s a problem?”
Myth: Our children with Down syndrome are a problem/burden to the family and society.
Truth: As one mom candidly replied when asked that question, “War is a problem. He is not.”
Most of us will agree wholeheartedly with that answer. Although finding out our child’s diagnosis was difficult, most parents quickly come to realize that our children are just as precious as any other child. They may have a difficult head start as compared to other children without disabilities, but that does not stop them from living a fulfilling life, given the right guidance and support. Perhaps the most rewarding part of parenting a child with Down syndrome is that they are our life’s best teacher.
Our children with Down syndrome are like seeds of a special plant. They are special to us. With the right “soil” and other elements for growth, our endearing special seeds will thrive under our nurture and be able to contribute to the society in their ways.