A New Down Syndrome Awareness Campaign is Making Headlines

Blog: Down Syndrome Awareness Campaign #2

A new international awareness campaign called “Assume That I Can” challenges stereotypes about people with Down syndrome.

Down syndrome is a condition in which a child is born with an additional chromosome. This difference leads to differences in physical and brain development which can create a variety of challenges including lower IQ, distinctive physical characteristics and certain medical problems.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that “Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal condition diagnosed in the United States.”

Approximately 6,000 babies (one in 700) with Down syndrome are born in the U.S. every year.

Prior to the 1980s, many people with Down syndrome were institutionalized after birth. According to the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, “most professionals considered it impossible for people with Down syndrome to learn how to speak properly, let alone read and write. It was assumed that people with Down syndrome would not walk properly, let alone participate in sports. They most likely could not dress, feed or take care of themselves, and were determined a burden to a marriage, siblings and a family. They were not allowed to attend public schools and most Americans believed they should not be allowed in public spaces such as movie theaters, malls or parks.”

Fortunately, in recent decades, beliefs about people with Down syndrome have changed dramatically. Nowadays, most children living with the condition are raised at home with their families and attend public schools where they learn to read and write. People with Down syndrome can be seen on TV, in films, on fashion runways and in the labor force. They are disability advocates, artists, musicians and athletes.

Launched on March 14, a week before World Down Syndrome Day, the “Assume That I Can” campaign video features Canadian actor, model, advocate and author Mia Armstrong. In the video, Armstrong, who lives with Down syndrome, advises parents, teachers, coaches, employers and even bartenders to “assume that I can” learn Shakespeare, play sports, live independently, get a job, have a romantic relationship, and drink a margarita.

The awareness campaign, which also includes success stories of individuals with Down syndrome posted to the organizations’ social media sites, is a joint effort between Italy’s CoorDown, National Down Syndrome Society in the U.S., the Canadian Down Syndrome Society and other organizations around the globe. It “was inspired by the 2019 speech given by Italian Down syndrome advocate Marta Sodano at the United Nations,” says CBS News. “She noted that when teachers assume a student cannot understand, they will not teach, and the student doesn’t learn. …” The scenario, said Sodano, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So far, the video seems to be changing some viewers’ perspectives. As Kandi Pickard, the president, and CEO of NDSS, told TODAY.com, “This video is opening up these conversations in such a healthy way for public to see not only the beauty but the ability of people with Down syndrome.”