Every week, I read heartwarming stories about Down syndrome: homecoming kings and queens, young men and women going to college, starting businesses, becoming models and actors, running marathons. And every week, I read horror stories about Down syndrome: rape that only becomes more horrific when the judge overturns the jury's conviction, parents who murder their 17-month old to "put him out of his suffering," abandonment.
They are all true stories. The heartwarming, beautiful, hopeful ones. The tragic, ugly, horrifying ones. All true. Of course, the media reports the dramatic examples, and the day-to-day experience of most people with Down syndrome is not nearly so dramatic (for a series recounting "days in the life of" people with Down syndrome check out downsyndromeblogs.org). Although I cannot deny the horror that defines the experience of some individuals with Down syndrome, evidence suggests that the more common story is the happy one. I experience the happy story in my own home, but I also see it with the other families and communities I know where people with Down syndrome are included and valued.
There's a video produced by Satchi and Satchi in celebration of the upcoming World Down Syndrome Day (officially observed tomorrow, Friday, March 21). This video won the Adweek "ad of the week" with its encouragement to mothers with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Each clip—taken of kids and teenagers with Down syndrome around the globe—alludes to the reality of the goodness of ordinary life for many of these individuals:
My only small complaint with the video is that it concludes, "People with Down syndrome can live a happy life." They needed to insert one more line: "People with Down syndrome DO live happy lives."
For more and more people to believe the good story, more and more people within our culture need to participate in this good story. There is plenty of work to be done on a structural level in order to provide access to education, funding for research related to Down syndrome, and opportunities for inclusion in society. On a personal level, more and more of us need to reach out to individuals with Down syndrome—whether that's inviting babies and toddlers to participate in local music classes or playgroups, encouraging children to befriend kids with Down syndrome, or taking a look at workplace and church environments to ensure that people with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities can participate and contribute within them.
Which story will you live out? Which one will you participate in?
As tomorrow comes, and families like ours celebrate the good lives of our loved ones with Down syndrome, please help us tell the good story.
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