How to Talk about Down Syndrome

When you’re not familiar with working along side individuals with differing abilities it can be difficult with what to say. Here are a few common words or sayings that we can help you with:

A Down(s) – A person with Down syndrome is not the disability. There are many other things that should, and do, define a person. It is dehumanizing and strips people of dignity when they are referred to as their disability. Instead of saying “he is a Downs baby” or “she is Downs” try “he/she has Down syndrome.”

Down syndrome child/baby/person – Refer to the person first, not the disability. This is one of the most common misstatements made and often causes parents to cringe, at least inwardly. For example, we don’t say “a diabetes child” or “an asthma person,” so eliminating this reference is critical. Instead use “a child with Down syndrome” – “an individual with Down syndrome.”

Normal kids – Please realize that we perceive our kids as being pretty normal kids. Comparing them to normal children implies that a child with Down syndrome is something less than normal.

Retard/retarded – Currently, the best reference is developmentally delayed (for children) and developmentally disabled (for adults). The “R” word is not acceptable.

Mongoloid – This is an extremely outdated term that was once used to refer to people with Down syndrome. The word should never be used when referring to or about someone with Down syndrome.

Handicapped – Use “has a disability or a differing ability.”

Suffers from/afflicted with Down syndrome  – Individuals with Down syndrome are not suffering or afflicted. We must instill a great sense of pride and self-esteem in all children, so our language must show that Down syndrome is not terrible, or anything to be ashamed about.

Avoid generalizing – “They are so loving,” “they are always happy,” etc. Much like non-disabled people, individuals with Down syndrome are all different and have a full range of emotions. “They” are not all alike.

How mild/severe is it? – A person either has Down syndrome or they do not. Down syndrome is not an illness.

But, you’re so young! – Although the chances of a woman having a child with Down syndrome increase significantly over the age of 35, there are far more children with Down syndrome born to younger mothers.

Downs or Down’s syndrome – There is no “s” in Down syndrome and the word “syndrome” is not capitalized.