An initiative that began in 2012, World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD) is a day that represents individuals with a chromosomal abnormality. Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21. Every year on 21st March, World Down Syndrome Day is celebrated to spread awareness and celebrate individuals with the syndrome. People all over the world come together, organise and participate in activities and events raising awareness and create a single global voice advocating for the rights, inclusion and well being of people with Down syndrome. This year, 2021, the theme is ‘WE CONNECT’.
TC46 connected with Clinical Psychologist Deekshaa Athwani, Fortis Hospital, Mulund, to learn more about Down syndrome and how we can celebrate the day. Here, she shares 10 things we need to know about individuals with Down syndrome.
1. Down syndrome is a genetic condition
Down syndrome is a genetic condition that occurs when a child is born with a full or partial, extra copy of chromosome 21. This extra chromosome alters the course of development and causes delays in the way a child develops, mentally and physically.
2. 2021’s theme ‘We Connect’ is empowering individuals with Down Syndrome
Every year Down Syndrome International decides a theme for World Down Syndrome Day. This is to spread awareness about the syndrome and the ‘call for action’. This year’s theme is WE CONNECT. The theme works towards ensuring that people with Down syndrome can connect and participate on an equal basis with others. The theme aims at empowering each one and seeking equal rights for people with Down syndrome.
3. Learn the myths & the facts
Myth – Genetic disorders can sometimes skip generations.
Fact – There may be chances that you carry a recessive gene, and it is not dominant to show any physical characteristics.
Myth – Not having a family history of the genetic disorder means you are safe.
Fact – Many genetic disorders may occur without any known family history.
Myth – Second child has lower chances to inherit the genetic disorder.
Fact – The number of children you have does not alter the gene you may pass on to your child.
Myth – Genetic disorders affect males and females in the same way.
Fact – It affects both differently.
Myth – Genetic disorders are always visible.
Fact – Some genetic conditions are not physically noticeable.
4. Textbook features and characteristic of individuals with Down syndrome
A person with Down syndrome may have the following features:
- Flattened face, small nose, mouth and ears
- Almond-shaped eyes (slanted upwards)
- Short 5th finger (curved inwards)
- Widely separated toes
- Low muscle tone
- Short stature
- Developmental delays
- Learning disabilities
5. Put on a pair of mismatched socks to support individuals with Down syndrome
You can celebrate Down syndrome by taking the initiative to learn more about the condition, and spread awareness about it. This can be done by volunteering at the Down syndrome advocacy program. Even if you cannot volunteer, you can show your support by being kind, foster inclusion and understanding for people with Down syndrome. Put on a pair of coloured mismatched socks and show that you care.
6. Encourage and empower individuals with the syndrome
To support a person with Down syndrome, show that you care and support them by:
- Trying to focus on the positives
- Encouraging their interests and talents
- Helping them express how they are feeling
- Encouraging them to have a healthy lifestyle
- Helping them to become independent according to their abilities and needs
7. Educate, acknowledge and help your child
It is first important to acknowledge your child’s disability and be willing to talk about it with your child. As your child grows, they will notice that they are different from other children and might ask questions. Be open to their queries and give them age-appropriate answers. Tell your child that although they face challenges in doing certain tasks, they are capable of many other things and have a lot to offer. Focus on your child’s strengths. You don’t only have to focus on their disability. Help your child to have an answer to the people who ask questions about their disability. If your child knows about his condition, he can spread awareness about it and stop the bullying. Help your child understand the people who are trying to help and support him for his growth, help them identify with healthy role models. Lastly, seek advice from professionals to help your child understand their condition better.
8. Be a strong support system
Yes, a child with Down Syndrome is prone to other medical illnesses as well. It is important you have a strong support system and have a toolkit ready at times of emergency.
9. Early intervention and help is required to develop social and motor skills
A child with Down syndrome requires early intervention as they face challenges in achieving basic developmental milestones. They have learning disabilities and difficulties with motor functioning due to low muscle tone. You may have to seek aid from special programs focusing on early intervention. Integrating special education, speech, and physical therapy help boost developmental potential. Occupational and vocational therapies are also beneficial.
10. Conduct creative activities, art programs or sports
You can engage in various activities you know they might enjoy. The key is to make them feel welcomed. It can be a sport they like to play or hobbies like listening to music, engaging in creative arts or even reading a book or watching a movie together.