Giving Thanks: For those who get to know those with Down syndrome

0000096797-thanks003-004Happy Thanksgiving! For those going through prenatal testing for Down syndrome, let us give thanks for those who make the effort to get to know more about Down syndrome.

As part of becoming a member of my state’s Bar, attorneys are required to attend an introductory conference. The topics covered can be pretty depressing. We learn that being a lawyer dramatically increases our chances for divorce, alcoholism, and substance abuse. In an effort to provide some coping mechanisms, one speaker’s three points for happiness have stuck with me:

  1. Choose the right spouse/partner;
  2. Find a job you enjoy doing; and,
  3. Count your blessings.

In America, we have an official holiday in recognition of the wisdom of the speaker’s third step for happiness. For the subject-matter of this blog, what I’m thankful for are those obstetricians, maternal-fetal medicine specialists, general practitioners, genetic counselors, geneticists, mid-wives, nurses, and expectant parents who take the time to get know people with Down syndrome.

I’m thankful because it takes time to get to know anyone. It can take even more time to get to know someone who is traveling a path not as similar to yours or those you surround yourself with.  Indeed, we celebrate Thanksgiving Day in part to remember the effort by both the Pilgrims and Native Americans to get to know one another and to live in community.

When that effort is made, it has a remarkable effect.

Medical professionals report viewing Down syndrome first as its associated medical conditions, not as a characteristic among many that make up a whole, unique individual. Similarly, the majority say that if they received a prenatal diagnosis, they would not continue their pregnancy. But, for those who do take the time to get to know individuals with Down syndrome, their perception of a life with Down syndrome is dramatically more positive.

This change in perception should not be surprising. The course of human history teaches that when people get to know one another, they hold a less stereotypical view of those they previously considered “the other.” And, in the case of Down syndrome, it should be even less surprising.

Other studies have found that 99 percent of individuals with Down syndrome say they are happy with their lives; that their parents love them; and, that their siblings consider themselves better people because of their brother or sister with Down syndrome. How can getting to know individuals with Down syndrome–individuals who are happy with their lives–not result in a more positive assessment of a life with Down syndrome? Perhaps that is why Campbell Brasington, a genetic counselor, wrote that, through her work counseling families and getting to know people with Down syndrome, they “charmed” her.

Those going through prenatal testing are doing so to find out information. Hopefully, that search for information does not stop once they receive a test result for Down syndrome. Instead, let us give thanks for those who take the time to continue their search for information and get to know what it means to live a life with Down syndrome.

P.S. The NSGC, AAP, and ACOG all recognize that one of the best resources for getting information about living a life with Down syndrome is by contacting a local Down syndrome support group to meet families. The website Brightertomorrows.org also has many family stories on-line as well as video. Please visit the Prenatal Resources tab for helpful links to finding your local Down syndrome organization and other helpful resources for learning about Down syndrome.

(Originally published November 21, 2012; updated November 28, 2013)

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