October is observed as the Down Syndrome Awareness Month and it attempts to create awareness about Down Syndrome, as well as remind people of the accomplishments and abilities of individuals with Down Syndrome. However, this month also gives us an opportunity to raise the issues of discrimination and lack of opportunities faced by people with Down Syndrome and how we as a society need to be more inclusive. Hence it becomes crucial to debunk some myths and stereotypical notions attached to Down Syndrome.
In a news story from Ireland in 2019, we get to see how a couple alleged that their son Cian suffered from discrimination. Their kid and several other children with Down Syndrome were excluded from a summer tuition program. His parents believe that their son is full of potential and is entitled to the same opportunities as every other child and they feel that without this extra schooling their son will be at an educational disadvantage. This is indicative of how parents of children with Down Syndrome have to put up a fight with the system and society at large, which denies equal opportunities to these kids, something that they’re entitled to. No parent should have to fight to prove that their child deserves equal rights and is worthy.
Despite policies aimed at ensuring equal rights and maximizing respect and social inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities, in their daily lives, many continue to face negative attitudes and discrimination within society. Misconceptions about what it means to have an intellectual disability and about the capabilities of people with intellectual disabilities appear widespread, and may contribute to prejudice and discrimination (Seewooruttun, Scior, 2014).
A few common misconceptions about Down Syndrome that have nothing to do with reality, include a belief that people with Down Syndrome are always ill and cannot lead healthy lives. Even though it's true that people with Down Syndrome are at a greater risk of suffering from some serious health conditions, but access to quality healthcare can help these individuals lead a good life.
The discriminatory and exclusionary attitude highlighted in the aforementioned news story, arises from widely believed stereotypes that people with Down Syndrome suffer from a severe cognitive disability, they’re not capable of education and employment, and thus they
cannot become productive and integrated members of the larger social community and as a result, are unable to lead “normal” lives. This is a very uninformed and problematic outlook towards Down Syndrome. Individuals with Down Syndrome might have a mild to moderate learning difficulty and they may require more attention and care from their primary caregivers and educators. But this in no way makes them undeserving or incapable of receiving education, they can also excel and be extraordinary in other fields and areas beyond academics as well. To dispel this myth, it should be known that people with Down Syndrome can be employed in various industries if given the right educational opportunities, training, and a conducive environment to learn and grow. We also need to critically look at how we as a society define and set standards of a normal and healthy life. We cannot predetermine and presuppose that people with Down Syndrome cannot be members of society. Stereotyping and labeling people with Down Syndrome further perpetuates stigma and justifies treating them differently.
Goffman (1963) argues that stigma not only affects the experiences of those in possession of the stigmatizing characteristic (the own), it also tends to spread to close family members and to others with whom the bearer of negative difference associates (the wise). The slim body of recent literature in which the impact of perceived stigma on the well-being of family members of individuals with stigmatized traits (courtesy stigma) is addressed suggests that, like individuals with disabilities themselves, family members who feel stigmatized often experience increased emotional distress and social isolation (Green, S., et. al., 2005).
The only thing preventing individuals with Down Syndrome from leading a “normal” and healthy life is the stereotyping, stigma, and discrimination faced by them.
- McDonagh, M. (2019). “Down syndrome children suffering discrimination, say parents”. The Irish Times. Retrieved from- https://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/down-syndrome-children-suffering-discrimination-say-parents-1.3970085
- Seewooruttun, L., Scior, K. (2014). “Interventions aimed at increasing knowledge and improving attitudes towards people with intellectual disabilities among lay people”. Research in Developmental Disabilities.
- Green, S., Davis, C., Karshmer, E., Marsh, P., & Straight, B. (2005). “Living Stigma: The Impact of Labeling, Stereotyping, Separation, Status Loss, and Discrimination in the Lives of Individuals with Disabilities and Their Families. Sociological Inquiry”, 75(2), 197–215.