Stepping Up Awareness

When I let people know that it’s time for the Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk either in St. Louis or Cape Girardeau, I always get such an overwhelmingly positive response from family members and friends wanting to show their support for Moses and the Down syndrome community. 

When it’s getting close to World Down Syndrome Day (March 21) and I ask people to wear a blue and/or yellow shirt (the colors for Down syndrome) and/or crazy socks (because chromosomes have a shape similar to socks), I again get a fantastic response of people showing their love for Moses and others with Down syndrome. 

Last October, in honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, I posted pictures and information about Down syndrome almost daily, including its history, quotes, challenges people and families with Down syndrome face, etc. Some of the things were pretty common knowledge, such as Down syndrome is caused by the presence of three number 21 chromosomes in each cell. Some of the information was a little lesser known, like that from 1946 until 1979 many children with Down syndrome were institutionalized because according to Dr. Benjamin Spock they existed at a level that was “hardly human”. Once again, the supportive and appreciative feedback was amazing. 

Since Moses was born, I have learned so much about Down syndrome not just by watching and observing him as he’s grown and developed, but also from talking to other people that have family members or friends with Down syndrome. From reading and learning about its history which paints a sometimes horrifying picture of how individuals with Down syndrome were treated. Early on in our country’s existence, people with Down syndrome (including children) were treated very inhumanely. The institutions many of them were sent to denied people with Down syndrome everything from healthcare to plumbing. They were forcibly sterilized. Feeding a baby with Down syndrome was considered a lifesaving procedure so many doctors refused to allow that type of “treatment”. These types of things were still happening in recent history. For example, in 1981, when a baby was born in Bloomington, Indiana with a blocked esophagus (the tube that connects the throat and stomach), the doctors advised the parents to decline the life-saving surgery the baby needed to survive. Because the baby had Down syndrome. Unfortunately, the parents took the doctors’ advice and the baby starved to death (Global Down Syndrome Foundation). I was born in 1980. That means that these discriminatory, and at times lethal, practices were happening within my lifetime.

Sickening, right?

Which is why having those different events and opportunities to increase awareness and support for individuals with Down syndrome is so important. Otherwise, the history of they have endured may be forgotten, or worse, repeated. The progress that has been made and the work that continues to be done may lose ground. None of these options is acceptable which is why I will continue to work hard to advocate for my son and the Down syndrome community.

Even though it’s not time to Step Up for Down Syndrome or for any other awareness event, a thought struck me today that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. I realized that when I put information out about any Down syndrome awareness events or anything about Down syndrome in general, there is one thing has never happened. 

Not one person has ever asked, “Why aren’t you walking for ALL disabilities?” or “Aren’t ALL people with disabilities important?” or “Shouldn’t you be raising awareness for ALL disabilities?” 

Each of those would be fair questions because the history of how people with Down syndrome have been treated is a history that is shared by all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The killing, institutionalization, sterilization, discrimination, etc. were practices extended to all types of disabilities. 

So do I think that all types of disabilities deserve efforts to raise awareness?

Absolutely. 

But my son has Down syndrome. And Down syndrome is different in many ways than other types of disabilities. To group all disabilities together always would hinder the goal of increasing knowledge and awareness about not just Down syndrome, but other disabilities such as congenital heart defects, autism, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, and the list goes on and on. When I’m advocating for Moses and the Down syndrome community, I’m not saying that those other types of disabilities are less important. That the people with those disabilities are less important. I’m just working to raise awareness about issues and challenges individuals with Down syndrome face, some of which are unique to Down syndrome. Just as there is unique information about each different type of disability. Which, interestingly enough, seems to just be understood. It has never required an explanation from me or anyone else that I know of. 

I understand there are some people that don’t understand or are opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement. I’m not proud to admit that six years ago when Michael Brown was killed and I first heard that phrase, I didn’t understand or support it. 

However, having a child that belongs to a group that has been subjected to unfair practices and still has to fight for certain rights and opportunities helps me to understand. Having a child that isn’t able to advocate for himself but still has needs and rights that deserve to be met helps me to understand. Having Moses has helped me to develop empathy for another group that has been subjected to unfair practices and still has to fight for certain rights and opportunities.

Yes, all lives matter. But all lives are not being subjected to individual-level and systemic-level racism and discrimination in various forms every single day, and have been for hundreds of years, all because of skin color. (Which, in my humble opinion, is extremely immature. It’s like Josie saying she doesn’t like pesto because it’s green.)

Saying “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t diminish the importance or value of any other lives any more than Stepping Up for Down Syndrome doesn’t mean that other disabilities aren’t worthy of an awareness event. Some may say I’m comparing apples and oranges, but I honestly don’t see it that way. Here’s how I see it: There is a group of people in our country that need and deserve our love and support right now to show that all lives really do matter by understanding and saying “Black Lives Matter”.  I hope you’ll join me in stepping up to do just that.

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