October is Down syndrome awareness month. For those of you who want to be more aware of things that those in the special needs community would like you to know, here are a few helpful tips.
A person with Down syndrome is not “Downs.” You do not have a “Downs friend.” Down syndrome does not define who a person is, and it is inappropriate, and considered offensive, to distill all of a person’s identity down to a medical diagnosis. Your aunt who has breast cancer is not your “breast cancer aunt,” and you would never think to refer to her that way. Extend the same respect to a person who has a disability by never saying that you have a “disabled friend.” Rather, you have a friend with a disability. More to the point, you just have a friend. If you must make reference to a person’s medical diagnosis, the correct and respectful verbiage is always person-first language such as “a person who has Down syndrome.”
Don’t Be Sorry
I’m not sorry that my son has Down syndrome, so you shouldn’t be either. There’s just nothing to be sorry about. He is happy, we are happy, and we are thrilled that he is part of our family. So please don’t say that you’re sorry when I tell you my son has Down syndrome.
There is a tendency to assume that because a person has special needs, or does not talk, that he or she is not smart. And that is simply not true. Don’t talk down to people who have challenges or can’t verbalize, or treat them like they’re unintelligent or can’t understand. Always presume competence.
More Alike Than Different
We live in a world that values homogeneity. We immediately identify differences, and unfortunately, are often intolerant of differences. But we all have limitations and differences, some are just less outwardly visible than others. People with special needs are just like everyone else. An inability to walk or talk has no bearing on the ability to feel, hope, or love. It’s okay to be different. We’re all more alike than we are different. ©
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