Happy 2024 World Down Syndrome Day!

Thursday is World Down Syndrome Day, a celebration of the achievements of people with Trisomy 21.

Natalie Sileo, a 4-year-old little girl with Down syndrome, enjoys some recent playtime on the swing.

By Tom Sileo Published on March 21, 2024

Today marks the 13th annual celebration of World Down Syndrome Day, officially recognized by the United Nations in 2012.

Why March 21, you might ask? According the movement’s official website, “The date for WDSD being the 21st day of the third month was selected to signify the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome which causes Down syndrome.”

My wife and I will never forget the day we found out our daughter would be born with Trisomy 21. In the four-plus years since, we have faced numerous challenges while being simultaneously blessed by the joy Natalie brings every day to our family and the world.

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As Natalie grows up, we can’t help but periodically wonder what her life will look like in ten, twenty, or even thirty years. There are certainties, like having a wonderful big sister who will always be there for Natalie, plus the fact that more opportunities and resources than ever are available for people living with Down syndrome. Still, as parents, it’s impossible not to worry about what the future will bring.

That might be why this provocative new video (warning: contains some profanity and sexual references) has caught the eyes of so many recently. Released as part of a campaign to “end the stereotypes,” it argues that “if we have positive assumptions about people with Down syndrome, we’ll give them more opportunities in their schools, workplaces, relationships, and activities.”

The video’s catchphrase — “assume that I can” — is as powerful as it is memorable. Nevertheless, the video has caused controversy within the Down syndrome community.

“The ad could do better,” one parent told me. “Make it about all the different jobs they could have and the positive contributions to the community instead of sex and drinking.”

“This is awesome,” another posted on Facebook. “And I would add that all of this should be possible, with the proper support, for people facing more extreme societal barriers to inclusion as well.”

The fact that so many discussions about the video are taking place, both within Down syndrome chat groups and text chains and elsewhere, leads me to conclude that despite some flaws, its overall message is resonating. In my case, perhaps that’s because since before Natalie’s birth, I have at times been guilty of underestimating her capabilities.

Those doubts are partially the result of spending four decades without ever getting to know a person with Down syndrome. The closest I came was probably when I was in middle school, where some of my classmates had Down syndrome and other special needs. To be honest, however, I was a selfish young teenager who was too busy playing sports and chasing girls to really notice them.

Having a daughter with Down syndrome has obviously changed my perspective. At the same time, my aforementioned doubts occasionally linger. That’s why this video, along with the many incredible examples of people with Down syndrome leading happy and productive lives, resonates so deeply.

Could Natalie someday get married and have children? Yes. Could she someday write books and columns like her dad? Yes. Could she be a prolific producer like her mom once was or a communications professional like her mom now is? Yes. Could Natalie reach even greater heights than either of her parents could possibly imagine? Absolutely.

The point is that everyone, including me, needs to stop setting limits on others. Each person with Down syndrome and other special needs is a miracle, especially in an age when far too many countries encourage not giving them a chance to live in the first place. While we should not only embrace the chance to help people with special needs live their best possible lives, we can learn a great deal from these treasured souls as well. Everyone in my family most certainly has.

Will Natalie someday be writing her own World Down Syndrome Day column right here on The Stream? I must assume that she can. From our family to yours: Happy World Down Syndrome Day!

 

Tom Sileo is a contributing senior editor of The Stream. He is the author of the forthcoming I Have Your Back, the recently released Be Bold and coauthor of Three Wise Men, Brothers Forever, 8 Seconds of Courage and Fire in My Eyes. Follow Tom on X @TSileo and The Stream at @Streamdotorg.

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