World Down Syndrome Day: A Celebration of Life
March 21 is a global day of awareness about Trisomy 21, which is also known as Down syndrome.
I know someone with Down syndrome. She is our 2-year-old daughter, Natalie.
God could not have created a kinder human being. While recently watching Sesame Street together on the couch, Natalie wanted to look out the window and stood up. When her foot landed on my arm and I said “ouch,” she immediately sat down, made the sign for “hurt” and started gently rubbing my arm until I smiled and told her it didn’t hurt.
Natalie had some minor surgery earlier this month. While only one parent was allowed into the hospital due to COVID-19 restrictions, my wife said Natalie was smiling and waving “hi” to every single doctor, nurse and fellow patient until the anesthesia kicked in. When I first saw Natalie about an hour after the successful surgery, she had already resumed her normal routine of smiling, joking around and always wanting to give us hugs.
Some have said it’s a stereotype that people with Down syndrome are always happy. While it’s absolutely true that Natalie experiences the full gamut of human emotions, I can honestly say I have never met a happier person. Her first instinct is to find joy in whatever she’s doing and to encourage everyone around her to feel the same way.
March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day. As noted on the official WDSD website, the United Nations established the global day of awareness in 2012. “The date for WDSD being the 21st day of the 3rd month, was selected to signify the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome which causes Down syndrome,” the site notes.
I will always remember the moment my wife and I found out Natalie had that extra chromosome. It caused intense anxiety, fear and anguish. As I wrote on The Stream back in 2020, “I thought my youngest daughter was doomed to a short, painful life that would only be worsened by parents who didn’t know how to take care of her. As we would later find out, I was completely wrong.”
Indeed, it is now impossible to imagine life without Natalie. She has unquestionably made our family stronger and our lives better, particularly for our other daughter, who is 11 years old. While I wouldn’t dare speak for other families that include children and adults with special needs, my guess is that most — if not all — would say the same thing.
Down syndrome is not a birth defect, as the World Health Organization recently claimed in social media posts before intense backlash forced the WHO to issue an apology. To me, a person born with Down syndrome is actually gift from God, as Stream founder James Robison poignantly told my wife and I shortly before Natalie was born. People with Down syndrome or other special needs are not burdens, but a precious part of society that should be both celebrated and protected.
For our family, World Down Syndrome Day is now on par with any other major national holiday. Instead of crying about our daughter having Down syndrome as we did in those difficult first few months, we are celebrating Natalie’s bright spirit and exceptional achievements. We are also saluting the millions of people with Down syndrome around the globe, along with all of the remarkable families that welcomed them into their lives with open arms.
The Down syndrome community contributes so much to the world. Inclusivity and representation are at all-time highs, which is a tribute to generations of people with special needs who have shown that their lives have enormous value and meaning. Almost every day, there is an inspiring story on television or online about a person with Down syndrome doing something extraordinary. These stories remind parents like us that there are no heights too tall for our daughter to climb.
We are so proud of you, Natalie, and can’t wait to see what you accomplish next.
Tom Sileo is a contributing senior editor of The Stream. He is co-author of Three Wise Men, Brothers Forever, 8 Seconds of Courage and Fire in My Eyes. Follow Tom on Twitter @TSileo and The Stream at @Streamdotorg.