October. For most, it brings to mind pumpkins, the changing colors on leaves, and fleece-lined leggings (well, unless you live in Florida like me). For those who have been touched by cancer, you’re probably well aware that Breast Cancer Awareness is recognized this month.
But October is also Down Syndrome Awareness month.
As a child and young adult, it didn’t mean much to me because I did not personally know anyone with Down Syndrome. Now as an adult and a mother, I am hyper-aware of my youthful ignorance and I want to educate myself and my family so we can all do better.
As a mom, it is SO important to me for my children to be kind. My oldest can make this tricky for me by simply opening her mouth as her stream of consciousness proceeds from her lips. The child has no filter.
Before, this would be an embarrassment to me as she loudly announced any difference she noticed in others. But after listening to moms of children who are differently-abled, I know what to do now.
Here are a few tips
- Use people-first language. Instead of “a Down Syndrome child,” try “a child with Down Syndrome.” It might seem like nothing more than a nuance of language, but this subtle change of words can have a big impact.
- If your child is curious — give them information! Yes, even if you are in the checkout line at Target and your dear daughter is shouting at the top of her lungs questions about a child who looks different — seize the opportunity. I have heard many moms of differently-abled children lament the response they typically see: a prompted quick apology by the child and even faster exit by the parent. Instead of fleeing the scene, use this chance to educate your child by saying something like “some people have an extra chromosome in their cells. Because of this, they may look and learn differently.” Even better, prompt your child to find something in common with others by adding “why don’t you ask her what her favorite color/TV show is?”
- Don’t say “I’m sorry” to expectant moms of babies with Down Syndrome.
- Read books or watch shows about children and people who are differently-abled. There are great resources online and at the local library.
- Check out The National Down Syndrome Society to learn more about DS. They have a great Q&A section for kids and even classroom activities that can be easily tailored for use at home.
2020 has been a roller coaster of emotions for everyone, but I think we can all agree that showing kindness to others is a small way to make a big change in our communities. And it starts at home.