All children deserved to be welcomed, valued and supported by their family, their peers and their community. Although more and more people like you warmly accept people with Down syndrome, misconceptions abound. Those misconceptions can lead to uninformed decisions, negative attitudes and poor treatment of those with Down syndrome.
The value of a child with Down syndrome is challenged from the outset. For most parents, the 20-week ultrasound spells relief; ten fingers and ten toes and cause to celebrate. Parents with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome experience something quite different. Many doctors present abortion of the otherwise healthy baby as an option, while friends and family weigh in with opinions. The parents’ initial pain can be amplified by the sentiments of others who believe the unborn infant unworthy, even of life.
Most babies are welcomed into the world with joy and exuberation, flowers and teddy bears. Parents delight, while family members and friends rush to congratulate. Babies with Down syndrome often receive a different reception. Hospital workers speak in hushed tones, while distraught parents hear condolences.
School can be just as bad. For most students, the new school year represents a promotion with a new teacher, new curriculum and new expectations. Students are guided by supportive teachers who believe they can succeed. Too often, however, educators view a student with Down syndrome as only a hopeless cause and a burden. The new year can mean yet another battle for basic consideration and educational rights. Instead of support, they get resistance.
Not all people deny children with Down syndrome the dignity that everyone deserves. But many do. As children with Down syndrome continue to exceed expectations, society must keep pace. People with Down syndrome – if welcomed, valued and supported – can make significant contributions to our community and lead fulfilling lives. We thank you deeply for joining us this evening, because your support will help us change misconceptions so that people with Down syndrome can reach this simple but important goal.
William and Dana Halle