As a mother of a child with Down syndrome, there are four main things I would like to challenge you with.
1. Ask questions! You’ll never be comfortable with or understand something you know nothing about. It can be a lonely road for families with children who have disabilities simply because people are afraid to say the wrong thing so they say nothing at all. And sometimes people insert stereotypes as fact and forget that every person is unique. There are lots of outdated stereotypes floating around. Don’t assume, ask! We are experts on our kids – way more so than any book or doctor. I am telling you, anything you are thinking, we have most likely thought ourselves. But we crave for you to know the person we know, and we will help be the bridge to understanding. Regarding older children and adults, always ask them first. Don’t assume they won’t understand and talk past them to the parents. If you are not getting answers or quickly realize the person is non-verbal or hard to understand, then turn to the parent or caregiver to help translate.
2. Look out and stand up for others. Encourage your child (or maybe yourself!) to look out and stand up for others. Even with all the anti-bully awareness, kids and adults with mental and physical delays still are often the brunt of jokes. Instilling compassion and leadership into them will only make our world a better place.
3. Clean up your vocabulary. Retarded, a word directly related to those with mental handicaps, has historically been used to belittle and devalue them. Whether you are using it referring to a person or not, it only continues to reinforce the mentality that people who are medically diagnosed as mentally handicapped are without worth. There are many other words you can use to describe things you deem stupid that do not degrade people with mental delays. Our words are powerful – they can tear down, but they can also build up.
4. Alter your understanding. Try reconditioning your mind that people with disabilities are people with hopes, dreams, desires and needs. While you may not bully or make fun of people with Down syndrome, many people, because of the way our culture references people with disabilities, subconsciously views them as unequal. Putting the diagnosis before the person- Down’s kid, Down’s man, Down syndrome children, etc. – only continues to condition your mind that they are not equal human beings. It may seem small and insignificant but saying “the child who has Down syndrome” recognizes the child over the fact that he has Down syndrome.
These four simple things you can do will make a world of difference to this mother of a daughter with Down syndrome. When someone takes the time to recognize her as the unique and precious individual she is; to not lump her together as just another Down’s child, I know they see her as I do – a treasure that makes our lives richer because she is ours.
To read Shannon’s full length post on being a Down Syndrome Mom click here.