Practically every day I get the joy of reading another wonderful story about a person with Down syndrome achieving something great. From starting a business, living independently, learning to drive or taking exams. What I’ve also noticed is a negative opinion of this within society and it is so disheartening. It takes a lot to make me angry but this really does. And it’s not just the part of society that has no experience with Ds; I’ve even heard it from mothers whose own children have Ds, the very people who should be championing other people who are succeeding within their community. The opinion I’m talking about is any variation of the following quote –
“That person is not a true representation of what Down syndrome really is. They are high functioning, where many, many more are extremely low functioning”.
Well I’m saying that’s rubbish, absolute and total rubbish. Not the fact that there are different levels of abilities, as of course there. And yes there are negatives and yes it can be hard. But isn’t it true that every single person on this earth has different abilities? We are all different, and that’s exactly how it’s meant to be.
What I find unrealistic, is the outdated and extremely inaccurate portrayal of life with Ds meaning an inability to learn or have any kind of good quality of life. It is not so very long ago that this life was institutionalized, because they were deemed unfit and unworthy to be a part of society. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve come so far since those times, and I regularly state that 2016 is a great year to be born with Ds. There are so many more opportunities and I believe that eventually things will change. But there are still so many obstacles and negative opinions to overcome, and it is these things that make our jobs as advocates so very hard. When we try to show the world just what our children are capable of, but get shut down with –
“Yes that’s all well and good, but that’s the sparkly side. What about the other side?”
Well what about it? Yes there is another side. Yes there are children with Ds who may have a lower functioning ability, and yes as parents we may face hard times and downsides (usually peoples misconceptions). But mainly, Ds just isn’t that scary. It just isn’t.
Something I struggle to get my head around is why society seems so determined to view Down syndrome as such a horrific thing. Every day we are seeing proof that people with Ds can have many successes, yet still people refuse to celebrate. They refuse to acknowledge that actually they may be wrong. And I’m not talking about all of society, through River’s social media pages I have learnt that there are a huge amount of people who value his life and see his worth and beauty. I’m so thankful to every single one of them. But it’s still reality that around 92% of women told prenatal that their baby will have Ds choose to terminate. These are not accidental babies, they are not mistakes. These are planned pregnancies and very much wanted babies, yet their parents believe that life with Down syndrome is so awful that it’s better to have no baby at all.
It just seems that society has had it engrained in them that people with Ds cannot live full lives, and those that do are in the minority. It seems that people accept that there are different levels of abilities, but they also think it’s acceptable to only focus on the bad. It seems that people don’t want their minds to be changed. They think that we shouldn’t see the best in Ds or have high expectations of people with Ds because not all of them will be able to achieve good things. Why are we so happy to focus on the negatives?
All children with Down syndrome will be different, and that’s ok. All children within the ‘typical’ world will be different, and that’s ok. Some ‘typical’ people will become brain surgeons, pilots or lawyers, whilst some will work checkouts, wait tables and clean toilets. Some will even become homeless, drug addicts or face mental illness. In the ‘typical’ world those differences won’t make you any less worthy of life, love or respect. Why should they for people with Ds?
I think the only way to change society’s perceptions is for parents to believe in their children, and show society everyday just what they are capable of. We need to believe in our children and enable them to be the best that they can be. Whether they pass exams, learn to drive, live independently, find employment or start a business. Or whether they are unable to do any of these things, it makes them no less important, no less worthy, no less wonderful and of no lesser value. Every person on this earth is good at something, we just need to find out what it is and nurture it. It may be something academic, cooking, dancing, art, technology or singing. It may be making people laugh, being a great friend, a good listener or giving the best shoulders to cry on. Whatever it is, we must always expect the best and always see the potential in our children and what they can achieve. We must always fight for their place in society and fight to show their worth. We must let our children be exactly who they are meant to be, and be proud of whatever they achieve, every single little thing. Whatever our child’s functioning ability we must never limit them, we must always show them that even if society chooses to limit them, we never will. We must never stop trying to change society and showing them just what Down syndrome really is. We must never stop believing in our children. Ever.
And if you are a parent of a child without Down syndrome, teach them to accept all differences and see the worth in everybody. Teach them that everybody in this world has value regardless of disabilities and intellect. Teach them to love with their whole hearts, and love with all of yours. Because that is how society is going to change.