By Eileen Haupt
Reprinted from NRL News Today. Eileen is co-founder, Keep Infants with Down Syndrome (KIDS).
The month of October is proclaimed “Down Syndrome Awareness Month,” when we celebrate the lives of individuals with Down syndrome and raise awareness about the genetic condition. It also coincides with the “Respect Life Month,” celebrated in October by the Catholic Church in the United States.
It is convenient that these two awareness campaigns fall in the same month. Why? We cannot advocate for individuals with Down syndrome without also raising awareness of how their lives are not being respected in our current culture.
With an abortion rate of an estimated 74% for babies diagnosed with Down syndrome prenatally, it is estimated that the Down syndrome population has been reduced by a third of what it should be.
In my presentation on this topic to teens at the annual National Right to Life Convention, I encourage them, not only to advocate for the unborn, but to also find ways to live out those pro-life values by being kind and inclusive towards their peers with Down syndrome. Who knows? If a pregnant teacher receives a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome for her baby, maybe she would be more inclined to choose life for her baby if she sees the students in the school being kind and inclusive toward their peers with Down syndrome and other special needs.
To that end, I have some suggestions for pro-lifers who might not know what they can do to be more “pro-life” toward individuals with Down syndrome.
In reference to the extra 21st chromosome that causes Down syndrome, I have put together a list of 21 Pro-life Things You Can Do for Individuals with Down Syndrome. (Though this is the title I have given it, many of these ideas are applicable to any vulnerable person, including the elderly.)
This list ranges from things anyone, even children, can easily do, to things that are more complicated and expensive, that only a few will have the means to do.
I hope readers find this list helpful and will put some of these into practice during this month of Down syndrome awareness!
21 Pro-Life Things You Can Do for Individuals Living with Down Syndrome
1.) Greet people with Down syndrome when you see them in a store, with a friendly “Hi!” Engage them in conversation. Speak clearly and simply, but please don’t “baby-talk” to teens and adults. (And please don’t forget their siblings! Include them when you are being kind to individuals with Down syndrome; they are often overlooked.)
2.) Talk to your children about Down syndrome. Help them become comfortable befriending children with Down syndrome. (Children with Down syndrome can play board games, sports, card games such as Uno, play with dolls, etc., just like other kids.)
3.) If there is a child with Down syndrome in your child’s class, church, or in your neighborhood, get to know the family.
4.) Invite a child with Down syndrome to your child’s birthday party (perhaps have your teen be an “individual assistant” to that child at the party, so the parent can be at ease knowing her child with will be looked after).
5.) Bring a meal to a mom who just had a baby with Down syndrome.
6.) Have your family attend an annual Buddy Walk in your area.
7.) Volunteer for Special Olympics
8.) Consider becoming an Individual Assistant in a school or to an adult (usually through an agency)
9.) Volunteer at a camp for people with special needs.
10.) Offer to provide respite, so the parents/caregivers can get a few hours off.
11.) If you own a business, hire a person with Down syndrome.
12.) Include teens or adults with Down syndrome in charity activities. They have something to offer! For example, my daughter helps out at church breakfasts and sorts food at the food shelf.
13.) Adopt a child with Down syndrome. See National Down Syndrome Adoption Network and Reece’s Rainbow or other adoption agencies.
14.) Befriend teens with Down syndrome; sit and talk with them at lunch. Chances are, you share common interests in movies, sports, etc. They often have a great sense of humor. Find ways to connect. The conversation may feel awkward at first, because the feedback may be different than you are used to. That’s ok. The more you get to know someone with Down syndrome, the easier it will be.
15.) Say “Hi” to individuals with Down syndrome in the school halls or when you see them while you are out in public. (Maybe make a comment about the weather or their hat or their cool shirt or whatever, anything that fits the situation.)
16.) Find out from a special educator at your school whether you can be a peer partner for a student with Down syndrome, such as in a speech therapy session.
17.) Look out for them. (Make sure they’re safe, have things they need, etc.) Defend them from bullying and teasing and think of ways to include them in social situations.
18.) Teens with Down syndrome have much to offer! They can share expertise about things that they are interested in. Seek out their knowledge!
19.) Participate in Unified Sports at your school as a “partner.” It is a very rewarding experience and a lot of fun! Or participate in a Best Buddies program at your school.
20.) Be a “buddy” at a Night to Shine event. This is a prom for people with special needs that is held once a year all over the country (even the world!) It is a very special event where the teens and adults with special needs are treated like royalty. It is a truly beautiful and special event. It takes many volunteers, and “buddies” will find it very rewarding and fun!
For Young Adults or Directors of Young Adult Programs
21.) As a person with Down syndrome transitions from school to adulthood, it can be a very lonely time. There are no longer the connections and inclusion found in the school setting. Find ways to include young adults with Down syndrome in youth adult programs. See also #12 about including young adults in charity activities. See also #20 – young adults would be perfect “buddies” for the attendees with special needs.