October is Down syndrome awareness month, so I'd like to do my part and spread awareness of this often misunderstood syndrome. In 1866, Dr. John Langdon Down, a British physician described the syndrome and called it "mongolism". Until the 1970s, people with Down syndrome were called "mongoloids". In 1959 a French geneticist discovered that individuals with Down syndrome possessed an extra chromosome. The correct name is Down syndrome, not Down's syndrome. In the past, individuals with Down syndrome were placed in institutions, hidden away from society in often deplorable conditions. They were treated as subhuman and not allowed the opportunity to show just how capable they are.
Willowbrook State School in Staten Island, NY was one such place. In addition to the abuse and neglect the individuals who lived there suffered from indifferent staff, overcrowding, and even other residents, they also had to suffer from subpar medical care and even medical experiments performed without permission. I first learned about the horrors of Willowbrook during my orientation when I started working at my current place of employment. I've had several people on my caseload who used to live at Willowbrook and it breaks my heart whenever I see that in someone's history. I am thankful to organizations like the one I work for who provide safe and stable homes for individuals with developmental disabilities. There are safeguards in place to prevent abuse, and while it does still happen at times, it is not the rampant problem it once was.
People with Down syndrome are actors/actresses, business owners, and athletes. They can do anything neurotypical individuals can; it might just take them a little longer to learn how. They are loving, friendly, and full of joy. Next time you see someone with Down syndrome, give them a smile and a little wave and see what you get in return. I bet it will make both of your days.
Information about Down syndrome:
History of Willowbrook:
Link to my April Fool's Day contest story "Downhearted", which, while fictional, is based on the mannerisms and behavior of several individuals on my caseload: