As music therapists, we are fortunate to work with many clients of different diagnoses and abilities. One such example are individuals with Down syndrome; music therapy meets many of the physical, cognitive, and emotional goals that these individuals have (as discussed here). However, in working with these individuals, we continually encounter misconceptions about Down syndrome that affect the perception of these individuals and their needs. In celebration of Down syndrome Awareness Month, here are some of those misconceptions and their corrections:
1. People with Down syndrome are always happy.”
People with Down syndrome are people. They experience the full gambit of human emotion just as any other person would. They feel happiness when engaging in positive relationships and frustration when confronted with rude behavior.
2. “Individuals with Down syndrome can not live fulfilling lives.”
A quote from National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS): “Businesses employ adults with Down syndrome for a variety of positions- in banks, corporations, hotels, hospitals, nursing homes, offices, and restaurants. They work in the music and entertainment industry, in clerical positions, childcare, the sports field and the computer industry, to name a few. Like anybody else, people with Down syndrome want to have a job where they’re valued.”
People with Down syndrome also form close interpersonal connections, just as anyone does. They meet people through work, church, extracurricular activities, and build relationships based on shared interests.
3. “Down syndrome is only hereditary and runs in families.”
The NDSS counters this with the information that “translocation, a type of Down syndrome that accounts for 3 to 4% of all cases, is the only type of Down syndrome known to have a hereditary component. Of those, one third (or 1% of all cases of Down syndrome) are hereditary.”
4. “Down syndrome is a rare disorder.”
Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition. The NDSS says that “one in every 700 babies in the United States is born with Down syndrome, or around 6,000 births per year.” Based on those numbers, meeting someone with Down syndrome is not rare.
5. “All people with Down syndrome have severe cognitive impairment.”
Although most individuals born with Down syndrome experience moderate to severe intellectual disability, this is not indicative of their potential for success. With helpful therapies and the appropriate educational setting, people with Down syndrome can learn and achieve their goals. It is important to note that not every individual with Down syndrome has severe learning impairments.
Individuals with Down syndrome, in our experiences, bring new perspectives to music and an energy that is difficult to describe with words alone. To dissolve their experiences to stereotypes and assumptions is to deny them the truth of their own reality. It is our job to educate ourselves on how to treat those with Down syndrome with the same respect we would give anyone else and provide an inclusive environment. If you’re curious about other misconceptions regarding those with Down syndrome, please visit www.ndss.org.