As part of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, I’m posting a series, “Trick or Treat,” throughout October to expose some myths about Down syndrome. I hope that you’ll find it helpful and informative.
Myth: People with Down syndrome all look alike.
Truthfully, anyone who has followed this blog for any period of time already knows that this myth is untrue. Putting aside the whole he’s-chunky-she’s-a-beanpole thing, Nathan looks a LOT like Sarah Kate. While it is true that people with Down syndrome have a number of common, recognizable facial features (such as almond-shaped eyes, small ears, a somewhat flat facial profile, small mouths, and round faces), they look much more like their families than they do other people with Down syndrome (unless, of course the families share similar characteristics!)
The Origin of the Myth
What I’m about to say may sound a little “un-PC” but I hope it will help to show these facial features in a different light. The common characteristics of Down syndrome correspond to the common characteristics of people of different ethnicities. For example, I have two friends in my running group who are of Asian descent – one Korean, the other Japanese (at least I think she is Japanese, based on her maiden name – if you’re reading this, C, correct me if I’m wrong!) When our group was fairly new, a lot of people got them confused. The point is that while people with Down syndrome may share some common characteristics because of their unique genetic makeup, they no more “all look alike” than do all light-skinned people, dark-skinned people, or Asian people.
Our wee human brains, as amazing as they are, tend to compartmentalize things which aren’t familiar to us. Because people with Down syndrome have facial features that we can recognize, we have a tendency to “group” them without considering the individuals. Even Dr. John Langdon Down, famous for being the first to recognize Down syndrome and for whom Down syndrome was named, theorized in 1866 that people with Trisomy-21 were of a specific race: Mongolian.
During Dr. Down’s time, Mongolian peoples were wrongly believed to be less developed than other races, and because of the epicanthal folds around the eyes which are shared by many people with Down syndrome, as well as people of Asian descent, Dr. Down made assumptions that were later proven to be untrue. Following his paper on the topic, the term “mongoloids” was widely adopted and continued to be used until the late 20th century when the true cause, Trisomy 21, was determined.
For a wonderful collection of images that highlight diversity in faces of people with Down syndrome, check out I’m Down with You, An Inspired Journey. The book contains stunning portraits of babies, young children, older children, teenagers, young adults, and older adults. It’s a beautiful illustration of this unique community.
Now enjoy a few diverse faces of Down syndrome from around the blogosphere (clicking on the images will take you to the blogger’s site).
Before you knew someone with Down syndrome, did you believe this myth? How do you feel now? Tell me!
Other Posts in this series: