I met a delightful 11-year-old Down syndrome child the other day. To my old eyes she is significantly outrunning Down syndrome stereotypes. She reads, reasons and is observant as a detective.
She is markedly different from my 35-year-old Down syndrome son Jason. Jason doesn’t read, can’t count his “monies” and can’t handle more than two concepts at a time. However, Jason has an incredible advantage over most of his peers in that he is incredibly savvy. Jason just “gets it” and is incredibly quick with funny comments and insights.
All of which reminds me again of something I think many often forget: Down syndrome and all cognitively delayed persons are as varied in their abilities and interests as the rest of the population. We’d play heck defining normal intelligence and there is no such thing as a normal Down syndrome person. The range of intelligence is incredibly wide in any room of the general population just as it is in the cognitive disability community.
The other part of that stereotype which always frustrates me is that all Down syndrome people are cuddly, lovable and docile. I can barely contain my anger sometimes when I perceive, underline that word perceive, that DS kids are being treated as “pets.” I have found that just like the general population Jason has his moods and there are times he simply doesn’t fulfill those stereotypical expectations of cuddliness. There can be a little snarl to him. When I see that I celebrate his individuality.
We do a horrible disservice when we attach expectations to the disabled. That’s our baggage speaking and those judgments probably say more about us than the disabled person.