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Imagine what life must be like for your special needs students. The mere mention of Down syndrome stirs up emotions in people that they may have never known they could feel towards someone just because of a label. The stereotypes and judgments people make against someone with Down syndrome have the potential to be much more harmful to their mental health than the affects of their genetic differences in their everyday lives. For every aspect of a disorder you can name, there is an attached stereotype, that if allowed to spread without confrontation, which has the potential to significantly hurt the person affected and society in general.
A major part of teaching involves advocacy for students. Do your part in your classroom by first finding out the real deal with Down syndrome facts.
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Myth: People with Down syndrome are born to parents that older.
Fact: Age does increase the likelihood of a mother having a child with Down syndrome, but a woman of any age can have a child with the disorder. In fact, teen mothers are also predisposed to birthing a child with it. For more information, see this article: Three Genetic Variants Cited as Causes of Down syndrome
Myth: Down syndrome is the same thing as severe mental retardation.
Fact: Mild-to-moderate intellectual disabilities may be present in many but severe problems are not common. A teacher will do best to remember that his students are capable of learning regardless of the severity of affliction.
Myth: People with Down syndrome will die young.
Fact: The average life span of a person with the disorder is 50 years of age. Like everyone else, a considerable number of factors go into how long a person will live. To assume that because a person has a genetic disorder that they will die young shows a level of ignorance that a teacher in special education cannot afford to maintain if she intends to experience a long career in the field.
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Myth: People with Down syndrome do best in self-contained classrooms and institutions.
Fact: Placement in either an institution or segregated classroom is a decision made by the student’s team based on individual need rather than strict requirement. There are people with Down syndrome placed in these environments but this is not the norm. An integrated life amongst those without the disorder is highly possible and is encouraged. Specialized support for Down syndrome is available in nearly every city, big or small.
Myth: If you have Down syndrome, you are always happy.
Fact: To believe that a person is incapable of experiencing a range of emotions is cruel. This disorder does not negate emotional health no more than any other condition. People with Down syndrome are capable of dealing with the emotions of others and expressing their own, if allowed, which is true for anyone else.
Myth: A person with Down syndrome is incapable of marrying, forming bonds with others, or living away from home.
Fact: Marriage is an option for everyone who wants to be married and Down syndrome does not automatically limit a person from experiencing it. Dating, socializing, making friends, moving out, marrying, and having children are all things that should go on a person with Down syndrome’s to-do list.
Teachers are taught and trained on how to work with persons with Down syndrome but even that special experience does not stop us from making human mistakes. With humanity comes fault, and it is not uncommon for teachers to forget that special education was created to address the challenges the individual faces rather than to label and broaden prejudgments relatable to a disorder. No disorder can definitively limit a student. All things are possible for the student to accomplish with the right education signified by specialization.