Monday, August 29, 2011

Down Syndrome and Public Perception

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So many times in my journey as the parent of a child with Down syndrome (now 38 years old),l I have heard people say, "Oh, kids with Down syndrome are so affectionate and loving and want to hug people all the time....." etc. I am here to tell you that classifying all people with Down as "affectionate and loving" is nearly the same thing as saying all blacks love fried chicken and watermelon. It's preposterous.

People with Down syndrome have one thing in common - an extra chromosome on their 21st pair. That's pretty much it. Oh, they have similar features, but as to their personalities and behavior, they are as different as people without special needs are.

My daughter is a wonderful, intelligent, funny, confident adult. She is NOT publicly affectionate, and she really considers her personal space her own. If you met her, she would certainly NOT come up and hug you. As a matter of fact, she has a great deal of respect for other people's personal space as well. I'm not saying she doesn't love some people - she certainly does love her family and friends. But don't expect her to love you automatically just because she has an extra chromosome. It ain't gonna happen. You have to earn her love and respect, just as you would if she didn't have Down. If would not be any more appropriate for you to hug her than it would be for you to hug any stranger upon meeting them, and you certainly shouldn't expect a hug from her any more than you would from any other stranger. After I married her mother in 1999, it took a year for her to feel comfortable enough with me to hug me goodnight!

And so, a word to the wise, as I'm sure any other parent of a child or adult with Down would tell you - they are so much more like "us" than like each other. Don't assume anything about people with Down that you wouldn't assume with "us".

2 comments:

HS Schulte said...

Indeed! I've said this before myself. I believe that many children with Ds are "taught" to hug. When mine started preschool everyone hugged him as if they were supposed to just because he had Ds. They have a full range of emotions just like the rest of us. I like to think the "happy, huggy" stereotype was a misguided attempt to advocate for acceptance.

jmrinaldo said...

To me, it's a little frightening that people assume that a child or adult with DS won't mind being "hugged". These individuals need to learn about personal space and boundaries and that it's okay to tell someone NO if they try to hug them. That's what we've taught our daughter. Thanks for your comments.
Joe