October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month—a wonderful time to share with your children the gift of people with special needs. If someone in your life has Down syndrome, you are already fully aware of the joy and wonder they bring to everyone around them.
If you or your children have never met anyone with Down syndrome, now is a great time to teach about what a blessing these special people are. Our society has made Down syndrome something to be feared and has convinced far too many moms and dads that their children with Down syndrome would be better off being aborted. Sadly, 90 percent of children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. It’s an incredible tragedy. And the only way to combat this untruth is through education and exposure.
In 1958, Dr. Jérôme Lejeune, a Catholic, French geneticist, discovered the cause of Down syndrome as the formation of an extra chromosome on the chromosome pair 21, giving babies with Down syndrome 47 chromosomes instead of 46. Lejeune renamed the disease Trisomy 21 and dedicated his life to finding a way to help babies with genetic intellectual disabilities.
A child with disabilities brings unexpected joy into a family, so much so that family members can’t imagine life without that person. Despite physical, emotional, or even financial hardship, each human being is a blessing and a gift from God.
Although many parents can become discouraged after the diagnosis of their preborn child, research concludes that people with Down syndrome lead fulfilling lives. As one family member remarked:
Our Rose is funny, clever, determined, stubborn, expressive, smart, persistent, joyful, adored. Not unlike most 2-year-olds I know. She is capable of incredible things, one of the most extraordinary being her ability to make everyone around her feel loved. To be loved by a person with Down syndrome is to experience love in its purest, rawest form. Without insecurity, without restraint, without reticence, without all the worldly baggage the rest of us pick up along the way. Put simply, a living example of Christ’s love. The tragedy of abortion of these precious babies is one we all share. It’s not a personal heartbreak, it’s a universal one. Our world is starving for this love.
– Erin Daub, mother to Rose and her two proud big sisters
Children with Down syndrome constantly defy odds and expectations. Because of their genetic condition, they have a harder time learning basic skills and gaining control of their muscles, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have talents and gifts that make them unique and unrepeatable human beings.
Every person has something to contribute to this world, even if that’s only a bright smile or a warm, understanding hug. Down Syndrome Awareness Month reminds us that people with Down syndrome add goodness to society in ways that other people cannot.
When Liam was born we were told he would be unable to figure things out. We bought a new baby gate today. Three hours ago. He’s already figured it out. Gleefully.
I hate when I hear someone equate DS with being unhealthy. It is a biochemical disorder that has to be watched and requires routine medical checks to address any “out of balance” issues with thyroid and other metabolic pathways. But our little hooligan is four and has been remarkably healthy. There are developmental delays. It is a fact. But he still laughs and jumps and whoops and cries and bugs his brothers . . . just like every other brother does. And he, just like other kids, is only limited by what he WANTS to learn. Put a remote control out of his reach and he will overcome any obstacle to get it!
– Shannon Efteland, mother to Liam and his two proud brothers
People with Down syndrome deserve our compassion, love, and respect. We must always remember to be patient with them and try to see the world from their perspective.
People with DS often have a difficult time with speech. This is NOT because they don’t know what to say. It is because they may have low muscle tone, poor motor planning, smaller bone structure in their middle and lower face and may have hearing issues because those smaller facial areas may affect the ears. If others never took the time to listen to you speak, would you stop trying to speak to them? Take a minute to give a smile and listen!
– Shannon Efteland, mother to Liam and his two proud brothers
Here are a few things you can do to teach your children more about Down syndrome as you continue to celebrate both Down Syndrome Awareness Month and Respect Life Month:
- Read inspirational stories about little heroes with Down syndrome on this tumblr by the Jerome Lejeune Foundation USA.
- Learn about the life of servant of God, Dr. Jerome Lejeune, the geneticist who discovered Down syndrome, and watch a presentation on Dr. Lejeune’s research.
- Read personal stories. Blogger and illustrator Michelle Mahnke has some beautiful stories of the love her daughter Stella has brought to the world.
- Read Michelle Mahnke’s comic strip Downsideups.com about a family with a daughter who has Down syndrome.
- Read the comic book from Human Life Alliance entitled Carlos and Isabel Save Esperanza about welcoming a new baby with Down syndrome.
- Explore Down syndrome more through these stories and resources.
The message of the gospel of life is respect, care, and concern for all human beings, from creation until death—and at every stage in between. People who have disabilities need to be recognized as valuable members of society and not held back by discrimination or other people’s low expectations.
To teach children the beauty of every human being, the next elementary school unit study in American Life League’s Culture of Life Studies Program currently in development is all about Down syndrome and other disabilities. In this four-week study your children will be exposed to some wonderful picture books and activities which reinforce the dignity of all persons regardless of the physical or mental obstacles they may face.
Interested in seeing All Shapes and Sizes completed? Donations of $25 or more will receive a free copy of the unit study when it goes into production. Donate today and help us bring this vital message to schools and homeschools across the country.