An Examination of Common Perceptions of People with Down Syndrome

Today, there are many misconceptions of people with conditions. Due to these misunderstandings, people do not use the correct language and end up saying offensive phrases and words to people with these conditions. For example, unfortunately, people with Down syndrome, and family members related to them, often experience the incorrect, offensive use of language people use to talk about the person with Down syndrome. Although Down syndrome may not be the easiest condition to understand, it is important to remember people with Down syndrome are people too. They can do any and every task that many “normal” people do in their daily lives. To add on to that, not every person with Down syndrome is the same. Just like “normal” people, they, too, are unique and come with different personalities and interests. Many times, the only difference between people with and people without Down syndrome is the matter of one tiny, minuscule chromosome. Your genes are what make you, you!

From your dashing good looks to how your body is processing the food you ate today, your genes are the bosses of all actions and doing in your body and how they are done. Similarly defined across many health organizations, Down syndrome commonly defined by kidshealth.org as, “when a baby is born with an extra chromosome” (Word! Down Syndrome). To complicate matters a little bit more, WebMD states there are three types of Down syndrome, including: Trisomy 21, Mosaicism, and Translocation with Trisomy being the most common at 95%, Mosaicism at 1%, and Translocation at 4% of all cases. This extra chromosome is the only characteristic that makes a person without different than a person with Down syndrome. Yet, although there is three of chromosome 21 rather than two, this extra chromosome does cause some physical and mental differences. But this does not imply that people with Down syndrome are not as capable as those without Down syndrome. Rather, it takes a little bit more time for them to understand the concepts that are quick and easy for those without.

Many people may know what people with Down syndrome look like; however, just like everyone else, people with Down syndrome come in many different shapes and sizes. But just like people who do not have Down syndrome, they share some common characteristics and features. A WebMD article reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD, lists a wide range of physical characteristics ranging from “flatter faces especially in the nose to loose joints and low muscle tone.” Both sites also add to the fact that these individuals with Down syndrome also have mental symptoms that “affects a person’s ability to think, reason, understand, and be social. The effects range from mild to moderate.” It also states that they may take longer to reach important goals like walking as babies, take longer to understand concepts in school, and may take longer to get dressed as adults (Brennan). Above all, many people should come to understand what Down syndrome is not. There is a large amount of misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding people with Down syndrome. These incorrect assumptions not only affect the people with Down syndrome, but their families too. Many people must realize when you say this rude assumption to a person, with or without Down syndrome, you are not only making fun of them, but you are making fun of someone’s child who is loved by their family. A familiar stereotype about people with Down syndrome is that they cannot have normal lives when they can and do! Although their condition makes it for them to take a bit longer to understand a concept, they still can understand the concepts that we know. Also, another important misunderstanding is the way people should refer to people with Down syndrome. Throughout this paper, I have referred to those with Down syndrome as “people with Down syndrome” and those who do not have Down syndrome as “people without Down syndrome”.

When referring to a person with Down syndrome, people may refer to them as a “Down’s baby” or “a Down syndrome child”, but this is not correct and seen as offensive. Also, people with this condition, which is not a disease, should be referred to as a person with Down syndrome. Another item to point out would be that I have used “Down syndrome” and not “Down’s syndrome”. People today may still think that it is “Down’s syndrome”, but as stated by the National Down Syndrome Society website, “Down syndrome is named for the English physician John Langdon Down, who characterized the condition, but did not have it. An “apostrophe s” connotes ownership or possession” (“What is Down Syndrome?”). These are just a couple of examples of what Down syndrome is not. For more information on the correct language usage and what Down syndrome is and is not, the National Down Syndrome Society is an excellent resource. People with Down syndrome do not have a disease. People with Down syndrome are just as capable to do the actions and daily tasks people without Down syndrome do, but they just take a bit more time. There are also correct and incorrect ways to refer to people with Down syndrome. All this combined is important to understand when interacting with people with Down syndrome and their families. Because just like me and you, they are people too.

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