The Savvy Auntie Guide to Down Syndrome Awareness
By: Lisa Graystone
Owner/ Stylist: Evolution Vintage
October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month and as I am sure you are all aware people in communities around the world have Down syndrome. In fact, there are over 400,000 American’s which represents approximately 1 in every 681 births. It is the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition. People HAVE Down Syndrome but that is not all they have. People with Down Syndrome have ambitions, feelings, likes and dislikes, skills, and goals just like everyone else. I read over and over how people with Down Syndrome are more like “us” or “typical” people than they are different. What defines us or typical is up for you to decide, I like to think in terms of humans who each have their own strengths, issues and unique tastes. Therefore this population is just like US. I don’t know one person who learns at the same speed as another, or draws the same, or starts talking at the same age, or likes everything the exact same way. The variables and variations between individuals are so VAST there is really no need to categorize people with Down Syndrome as “us and them”, I prefer WE.
What I would like people to be aware of this month and going forward is the power of inclusion and that each and every one of us has this power. We have the power to educate and inform people. We have the power to raise compassionate human beings in our children, and for Savvy Aunties - our nieces and nephews. We have the power to influence friends, colleagues and family about the value EVERY person has regardless of abilities. We have the power to advocate for people with Down Syndrome in our communities and beyond. Inclusion of people with Down Syndrome and all people is up to US, yes you who are reading this and I who writes. The term inclusion is usually associated with education, inclusive classrooms include people with disabilities but for my purpose it means to include people with Down Syndrome in ALL facets of life and society just as you should every other person. Savvy Aunties play a great role in the education and influence of their nieces and nephews about a wide range of topics and inclusion is one of them.
You are probably thinking what can I do specifically to promote inclusion?
1) Speak to your nephews and nieces about people with different abilities and the fact that individual differences should be celebrated and not avoided, picked on or laughed at. Let them know how EVERYONE has value and something to contribute to the world. Being the same as everyone else is nothing to be proud of but being yourself IS.
2) Encourage interaction. If we really look hard enough we ALL know someone who is differently abled, maybe even someone with Down Syndrome. Maybe you have seen them at school, church or in your town working? Suggest your nieces and nephews go and say hello or introduce themselves to a person with Down Syndrome or who has a visible disability. Depending on age this may not be an easy task. For the younger kids accompany them and initiate the introduction, you may just make someone’s day!
3) Lead by example. I never ask anyone to do anything that I would not do so SHOW your stuff Savvy Aunties and lead your nieces and nephews in a more compassionate direction.
4) Teach and encourage people first language. This is something that everyone can benefit from, not just your nieces and nephews but everyone you know of all ages. For example, my son Blake is NOT a “Down’s Kid”, he is a kid that has Down Syndrome. Person first and perceived disability second. Remove the R word from everyone’s vocabulary. The word Retarded is not only offensive and hurtful but outdated and unnecessary. It is sadly part of the North American lexicon but as it was introduced it can also be abolished. I’m literally gutted every time I hear someone use it. I’m also guilty as I have used it in the past (pre-Blake) without ever realizing the ramifications and the impact I was having on others feelings. A thesaurus makes a great gift for those who have a hard time selecting another word to describe their upset at a situation.
Do you feel equipped now to be a Savvy Auntie Ambassador for people with Down Syndrome? Get the facts and bust the myths by visiting http://www.ndss.org/Down-Syndrome/Down-Syndrome-Facts/
Together we can make our world a more compassionate place and raise the next generation of people to not only be accepting of people with Down Syndrome but empathetic, kind and welcoming. I am proud of my son’s “Designer Genes” and I hope that each of you reading this has the opportunity to create and participate in inclusion in your communities and beyond.
Photos: Lisa Graystone
Published: October 7, 2015