October 31, 2012

Raise Awareness Of Down Syndrome

On the fateful day of July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong arrived on the moon, he said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” While the quote refers to the progress the U.S. space program had with that mission to the moon, the meaning of Armstrong’s message can still be applied today. Neil Armstrong walked for science and change, while participants of the Buddy Walk for change but also awareness for Down syndrome.

While many associate October with Halloween, October is also Down Syndrome Awareness Month. The Buddy Walk was first founded by the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) in 1995 to increase acceptance of people with Down syndrome in local communities. Since then, the program has grown to over 250 walks with 285,000 people participating in walks last year.

For people who cannot participate in the walks, NDSS encourages them to plan independent events and fundraisers to support the organization. Past fundraisers included bake sales, bowl-a-thorn, parties, mustache growing competitions, bike rides, and triathlons. These fundraisers allow individuals to fundraise on behalf of NDSS.

Apart from the walks and events, Down Syndrome Awareness Month is an important time to educate people on the condition. In particular, Down syndrome is due to a full or partial extra copy of the chromosome 21 that changes the path of development for an individual and leads to characteristics related to Down syndrome. With one in every 691 babies born with the condition, Down syndrome is considered the mostly commonly occurring chromosomal condition. In the United States alone, 400,000 people are living with the condition and it can affect people of all economic levels and ethnic backgrounds.

As well, those with Down syndrome are found to have heightened risk for specific medical conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, childhood leukemia, congenital heart defects, hearing problems, respiratory issues, and thyroid difficulties. Furthermore, people who have Down syndrome commonly have physical traits like an upward slant in the eyes, low muscle tone, and small stature. Even though they have various difficulties, people with Down syndrome can still go to school, work, and contribute to society in a variety of ways. If they are given a stimulating home environment, good health care, and positive support from friends, family, and the local community, then they will be able to develop successfully.

There is also a preferred language guide that individuals can follow when talking about Down syndrome. For example, children with Down syndrome like to be referred as “a child with Down syndrome” as opposed to “Down’s child” or “a Down Syndrome child.” Down syndrome should also be referred to as a “condition” or a “syndrome,” as opposed to a “disease.” Furthermore, Down syndrome should not be described as a “mental retardation” but more so an “intellectual disability” or a “cognitive disability.” Using “retarded” can be extremely hurtful to individuals with the condition.

For those who are social media savvy, the NDSS also recommends individuals promote awareness through outlets like Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube. The group is using the hash tag #DSAM2012 to start conversations. With Pinterest, the organization has provided important factors as well as ideas for fundraisers.

To learn more about Down Syndrome Awareness Month, visit the NDSS online.

Image Credit: Denis Kuvaev / Shutterstock

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