October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. It’s the perfect time to learn more about the condition; celebrate the individuals who live with it; and discover how medical innovations have enhanced quality of life for the approximately 6,000 babies (one in 700) born with Down syndrome each year.
Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal condition. Named for Dr. John Langdon Down, who identified the disorder in 1862, it is most likely to occur in babies conceived by older mothers. According to National Today, Down syndrome “is associated with delays in physical growth, characteristic facial features and intellectual disability.”
As recently as the 1950s and early 1960s, the birth of a child with Down syndrome was viewed as a tragedy and doctors discouraged the parents of children with Down syndrome to raise them at home.
Instead, says the National Association for Down Syndrome, they were “’warehoused’ in large state institutions – often in deplorable conditions – locked away so that the rest of society could not see the horror of their lives.” Parents who defied medical advice and chose to raise their children with Down syndrome at home, received little to no support or services.
The climate began to change when Kay and Marty McGee, whose daughter Tricia was born with Down syndrome, formed the National Association for Down Syndrome (NADS) – “an organization that would always recognize the great value of individuals with Down syndrome and of parents helping parents” in 1960.
Today, we know that children with Down syndrome can be happy and productive members of society who bring great joy to their families and friends.
Here are some ways that you can celebrate Down Syndrome Month.
1. Participate in a Buddy Walk
Raise awareness about Down syndrome by taking part in a Buddy Walk this month. With over 250 walks taking place across the United States and beyond, there is probably one near you.
2. Commit to kindness
The Down Syndrome Information Alliance suggests commemorating Down Syndrome Awareness Month by performing 31 acts of kindness – one act for every day of the month of October.
3. Educate others
Teachers and parents can teach children about their peers with Down syndrome by sharing books that encourage the inclusion of people with the condition. Gigi’s Playhouse Inc., which provides free educational and therapeutic services for individuals with Down syndrome and their families, recommends “My Friend Isabelle” by Eliza Woloson and “What’s Inside You Is Inside Me Too: My Chromosomes Make Me Unique” by Deslie Webb Quinby and Jeannie Visootsak.
4. Support Special Olympics
Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics for individuals with intellectual disabilities like her sister Rosemary. Shriver, an athlete, recognized that participation in sports was a wonderful way to bring people together and believed that “given the same opportunities and experiences as everyone else, [people with intellectual disabilities] could accomplish far more than anyone ever thought possible.”
5. Post about Down Syndrome Awareness Month
Use #DownSyndromeAwarenessMonth on social media to share information about the disorder and to highlight the contributions of people with Down syndrome to our society.
6. Pledge to spread inclusion
Visit the website SpreadInclusion.com to pledge your support for creating a more inclusive society.
Lend your time and talent to an organization that supports Down syndrome education or provides services for individuals with Down syndrome and their families. Some options include: Gigi’s Playhouse, Down Syndrome Resource Foundation, National Down Syndrome Society and National Down Syndrome Congress. Or find an organization in your area by clicking here.