October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month here in the United States. I'm personally not out to promote awareness anymore, because we are there already.
We are aware.
We are aware that people with Down syndrome are the same as people without: deserving of equal rights, opportunities and privileges. We are aware of what features associated with Down syndrome look like, we are aware of discrimination and prejudice that is regularly leveled at people with Down syndrome.
We are aware that the world is not often kind to people with Down syndrome -- that people with Down syndrome can suffer horribly at the hands of people who do not accept them. Those hurting hands can belong to relatives, to members of the justice system, to acquaintances or strangers. Yes, we are aware of this, and perhaps this is partly the fear that keeps women from choosing to have a child with Down syndrome, perhaps this awareness does more harm than good.
I want us to try to move beyond awareness. I want us to move into acceptance.
Let's try to put our awareness into action and actively accept people with Down syndrome. Let's try and move two steps past our comfort zone, whatever that might be.
Are you uncomfortable around people with Down syndrome? Let's be honest here. If you are, go ahead and challenge yourself to just go up to someone with Down syndrome, look at them and greet them from your heart. A sincere "hello".
And then move forward.
National Down Syndrome Acceptance Month
I challenge you during this coming month, what I will now call National Down Syndrome Acceptance Month, to challenge yourself in moving past a place of discomfort with Down syndrome.
If you are already completely comfortable with Down syndrome, then I challenge you to go the extra mile and implement one of these ideas:
Talk to a vocational counselor from the Department of Rehabilitation about providing an internship or work experience for someone with Down syndrome; reach out to your local Down syndrome center and get something going.
It can be with child care help. Assistance with cleaning. Chores. Bicycle repair. Gardening. Filing. Those are just some ideas but talk to the individual with Down syndrome that you hope to form a partnership with and see what will work for both of you.
Can you offer to teach a skill to a person or small group of people with Down syndrome? Perhaps they might like to learn how to knit, learn ASL, or how to blog? Photography, sewing, ceramics?
Think outside the box; we're only limited by what we can imagine.
Ask what is needed of your local Down syndrome organization, check in with your local Center for Independent Living. Areas have different needs and it's best to check in and see what they actually have use for before jumping in.
Google your local organization if you need to, email or call them. Sometimes you need to be persistent in reaching out and connecting with someone. It's funny how hard it can be to get an organization to allow you to offer to help them.
Down syndrome acceptance -- It begins with us.
Move past the awareness. Open your arms to acceptance.