Stop Misunderstanding Down Syndrome

Karli Applestein, Opinion Editor

Down Syndrome is often misunderstood. Those misinterpretations make me so angry; because people with Down Syndrome aren´t stupid, and if people actually did research about it, they would know that it is a genetic chromosome disorder. It’s something that can’t be controlled, and yet, people with Down Syndrome often don’t get the opportunity to be celebrated. The only thing that people focus on is what makes them different, and they see this in a negative light.

Additionally, mentions that adults with Down Syndrome are often given roles at businesses well below their capability, just because of their disability. The sad truth of it is that managers are almost always aware of how much more disabled people can do than what they have been assigned, but they follow the stereotypes like everyone else. 

Down Syndrome hits close to home for me. For about 4 years, I have been an active volunteer, event planner, literacy tutor, and youth board member at GiGi’s Playhouse Annapolis; a Down Syndrome Enrichment Center for people of all ages with Down Syndrome. I am a huge advocate for individuals with Down Syndrome. Kids and adults with Down Syndrome want the same thing as everyone else: to be accepted. In my many years of volunteering at GiGi’s, I have learned that Down Syndrome has been taught in multiple ways. 

I volunteer at the TeenTastic programs, which allow teens with Down Syndrome to interact with other kids their age. I can’t count on both my hands how many times people have baby-talked to the participants. I can’t help but laugh at the irony, because given the fact that you talking in that voice gives the impression that you think they are mentally incompetent, just think how you look talking like that to someone who graduated college. 

I feel protective of the kids at GiGi’s, because I feel like I have watched them grow so beautifully. Spending time with them for so long, I have learned how much they inspired me; especially considering I have been with them for the majority of my teenage years. We have grown together, and that is a connection that no words or actions can take away from them or me. 

Being so attached to the kids, watching them get patronized and disregarded breaks my heart. 

With a lot of confusion and frustration, there is a little room left inside of me to kind of understand why people shut out those with Down Syndrome. Something new, or in this case different, can be scary, and I get it. But put yourself in their shoes. Imagine living every day knowing that you will probably be sitting alone. They might like themselves initially but in their heads, they rely so much on other people for reassurance. So let’s put the pieces together. If a child with Down Syndrome depends heavily on what others perceive them to think of them as an alien from another planet, it is pretty much inevitable that they will view themselves in that manner as well.