I only wrote this post a week ago and I’ve had to update it already, because I came across another ’cause’ to add to my ‘How NOT To Get Down’s Syndrome’ file: Down’s Syndrome is NOT caused by (wait for it) … having fantasy sex with a mythical ape-man. Yes, this really has been put forward as a hypothesis, written in a cod-scientific style (probably scrawled in faeces on the walls of the author’s secure cell, I imagine). I’m not sharing the screenshot of it (the typed-up version), because there are people out there who will latch onto every word of it. There is a formula for working out the density of concrete: is there one for working out the density of people?
Internecine warfare would be a good way to describe the debate which rages amongst the Down’s Syndrome community over Mainstream School v. Special School. At least, it feels that way some days. It is very damaging. We risk splitting Down’s Syndrome into two classes – ‘Acceptable Down’s’ and ‘Unacceptable Down’s’. Seriously.
A friend and I were accused on a public forum, of wanting to hide all children with Down’s Syndrome away, because we have both placed our children into specialist schools. In both our cases the decision to do so was not taken lightly. It became apparent that, for the wellbeing of our children, we really had no choice. Yes, we know what the research says, but we also know very well what our children’s individual needs and tolerances are, and we always put those first and foremost. Whatever we might have originally hoped for, we had to accept that our children, in their way, were telling us that they needed something different. We did not consign our little ones to the educational bin, we did what was best for them as individuals.
There is one thing that we both agree on – that the best school for any child is one where their needs are met, and where they are happy, be that Mainstream, Specialist, or home schooling.
Many children with Down’s Syndrome thrive in Mainstream School, and when that happens it’s fantastic — good news for everyone. But there are some who do not cope in the Mainstream School environment, or who do not have a Mainstream School in their area that is willing and able to fully accommodate their needs. Mainstream does not work out for everyone. So, what are these children supposed to do for an education?
Pre-1970 local authorities were not legally obliged to provide any education for children with Down’s Syndrome, so many did not go to school at all. If you believe that children with Down’s Syndrome should never be placed in Specialist Schools, then you risk sending some children, for whom Mainstream School is not suitable, back to the pre-70s situation where there was no suitable educational provision for them. These children would have no opportunity to learn and make friends, one parent would have to give up work to stay at home with them, and quality of life would be reduced for the whole family. If you wanted to create a situation in which more people receiving a prenatal diagnosis would choose to abort, then this would be the way to go about it.
At least as the situation stands now we have options. Children with Down’s syndrome can go to Mainstream School, and for many the placement will be a success. Those for whom Mainstream does not work out for one reason or another have the option to go to a Specialist School.
Children who go to a Specialist School are not pushed in there and forgotten about – it’s not like the bad old days of the long-stay hospital. They are not hidden away. They live at home with their families in ordinary streets and neighbourhoods. They have mums, dads, brothers, sisters, friends and neighbours. They can go to Scouts, Brownies, swimming lessons, dance classes, whatever they like, alongside other kids, typical kids. They are a visible and active part of the wider community (as Specialist schools often are).
Why would anyone be against a child with Down’s going to Specialist School if they needed to? Why would anyone think that forcing a child to attend a Mainstream School, where that individual child was manifestly unhappy and unable to cope, was the best thing for them?
Is there a hierarchy of acceptability amongst people with Down’s syndrome? Are only the ones who go to Mainstream School, are ‘high functioning’, high achievers, those who can come close to the ‘typical’ norms, acceptable? Are the children who need specialist education not good enough for you? Are they not good enough to represent Down’s Syndrome? Are they ‘less than’, less worthy, less deserving of rights? Is it really YOU that wants to hide the ‘Special School children’ away, because you are afraid they will taint the fight for acceptance by being ‘unacceptable’? And what are you saying about all the children who go to Specialist School for reasons other than Down’s Syndrome? Are they less worthy, too?
If we do not accept and embrace the worth of ALL of humanity, the ‘high functioning’, ‘low functioning’, physically impaired, or those with very complex needs, then we might as well jump into bed with the eugenicists.
My child needs me to be an advocate for him as an individual, so if you think I’m ‘letting the side’ down by placing him in Specialist School, then hard cheese, old bean. My child’s needs come before your opinions. And yes, I am in the best position to know what my child’s needs are and what’s best for him. Some children with Down’s syndrome do need a specialist education. Accept it. Get over it.
For more on my view of Specialist Schools, click here:
How do we square the fact that, under UK law, a foetus has no rights separate from those of its mother, with the fact that it is undoubtedly a living human being? Anyone who has ever been pregnant will tell you that the foetus is most definitely alive. Every foetus that survives pregnancy will be born a human baby – it has no potential to become anything else. It is, therefore, a living human being. Why, once the threshold of viablility is passed, does it still have no rights of its own?
How do we square the fact that those who would deny the foetus any rights and protections in law under the guise of ‘a woman’s right to choose’, then limit that right to choose by steering women towards one particular course of action over another, according to what is considered socially acceptable in her circumstances? How is true choice possible when society exerts subtle pressure on women to choose one course of action over another instead of allowing her to decide for herself. For Instance, in the case of prenatal screening, a woman’s right to choose is fast being conflated, in society’s expectation, with a woman’s moral duty to abort a foetus found to have certain disabilities or conditions.
How do we square the above with the Rights of Disabled Persons?
Would it not be sensible to take the decision not to have any children at all, if you really believe that you could not cope with raising a disabled child? After all, there is no guarantee that the child born healthy and non-disabled today will remain healthy and non-disabled tomorrow, because shit happens. For that matter, what would you do if you ended up having to care for a disabled spouse, because shit happens? Or disabled elderly parents, because shit, and ageing, happen? Would you knock them on the head and say you had to do that because they were too difficult to look after and, in your opinion, had low quality of life?
Does asking these questions make me ‘pro-life’? If it does, what’s wrong with respecting the dignity and sanctity of human life anyway? That respect is probably the only thing stopping me from throttling the people who suggest my son should not have the right to life.
Does asking these questions make me ‘anti-woman?’ No woman is just a woman, she’s also a human being, and was once a foetus (as we all were). She may also be Disabled. Or any one of many other things. Intersectionality is part of all human experience to some degree.
How do we care for and protect women who have been abused or raped, or are economically disadvantaged, etc, and at the same time give rights and protections to the unborn child?
If we refuse to protect the unborn Disabled child, what does this say about our perceptions of disability? And do these perceptions negatively affect the lives of children and adults living with disability? Doesn’t the view that Disabled people are ‘disposable’ before birth tend to erode their status after birth? How does this attitude affect public planning and the provision of services, and so on?
Don’t kill, rape, abuse, or discriminate. Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. Protect and care for the vulnerable. Aren’t all these things no-brainers?
Let’s just get one thing straight, shall we? Taking Sodium Valproate during pregnancy (or at any other time) does NOT cause Down’s Syndrome.
Here’s a list of other things that DO NOT cause Down’s Syndrome. It is not exhaustive (because, sadly, the human capacity for stupidity and misunderstanding is inexhaustible):
The only thing that causes Down’s Syndrome is having (actual) sex.
That’s right! Having sex causes Down’s Syndrome. All the people in the world who have Down’s Syndrome have it because their parents had sex*. Down’s Syndrome is caused by the presence of an extra chromosome on the 21st pair. It occurs randomly at the moment of conception. Conception occurs as a direct result of having sex, therefore having sex causes Down’s syndrome. So if you would prefer not to have a child with Down’s Syndrome, then remember whatever you do, DON’T HAVE SEX.
Below is a link to s video, by Shabang Theatre, explaining how Down’s Syndrome DOES occur. When you watch it, be careful not to get the wrong end of the stick — it definitely isn’t caused by having a threesome!
*For the purposes of this discussion IVF counts as sex, since it mimics what happens inside the body after the act of marital (or non-marital) bliss.
** Sex is not a sin.
This latest post from Our Lived Perspective is, again, another old one: and, again, it was brought to mind by a thread in which someone had shared a negative comment they had either seen or received, posted apparently by the mother of an adult with Down’s Syndrome, who seemed extremely embittered with her life, who blamed her daughter for everything that was wrong in her life. Some queried what had happened to make her so bitter. Others, however, pointed out how much harder it must have been decades ago when parents did not receive the support that is available now, and we’re simply told that their children would never learn anything and there was nothing to be done. I’m sure it must have been.
But, if the encounters I have had with the parents of (now) older adults with Down’s Syndrome are anything to go by, there have always been families who thrived, regardless, even back then in those days of bleak prognosis. You may say that those who had a negative experience would not come and talk to me, because they would not be eager to talk about it, especially to a stranger, and I would have to agree. But if most parents in the past were struggling, were miserable, and embittered, then you would hardly expect anyone from the older generation to come up and talk to me at all. And yet, I have had many such encounters – positive encounters. So, here’s another post about a random encounter I had with a parent from an older generation: once again, I think it demonstrates the difference between the reality experienced by the families of those with Down’s Syndrome, and the mistaken perceptions held by the public (and medical profession) of what our lives must be like. I promise you, what lady said to me about her elder daughter’s wish for a baby just like her sister is, truthfully, what she actually said. I did not make it up for emphasis. It surprised me at the time, but then, as I have learned, people are infinitely surprising:
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS IN PRIMARK.
Primark is a great place to find a bargain; but, whilst shopping for cheap shorts and tee-shirts for Freddie’s first holiday, I found something I hadn’t bargained for.
Freddie was eighteen months old. I was browsing tentatively, keeping an eye on him as he craned out of his buggy, trying to reach the nearest garments to snatch them off their hangers. ‘Hiya’ was his only word at that time, and he shouted it enthusiatically at every passer-by, hoping for a reaction. Soon enough, he got one. A lady, well into her seventies, came over and began to coo at him in a grandmotherly way. Freddie lapped it up and became utterly charming, making eyes and flirting outrageously. I joined in the conversation with some apprehension. Would she notice? I knew the words people of my mother’s generation used to describe children like Freddie, the negative preconceptions they held.
Suddenly she called out to someone I could not see, presumably a baby-loving companion: ‘Jan! There’s a little one here.’
My attention was on Freddie, I was looking down, wiping his chin. A lady’s feet apppeared in front of the buggy, a head bent over it and was treated to a luminous Freddie-smile.
‘Has he got Down’s?’ she asked
‘Yes,’ I said firmly and looked up … into a pair of distinctively almond-shaped eyes. ‘Just like me,’ she exclaimed, beaming.
We talked and talked, all shopping forgotten. The conversation glowed warm with love and positivity, as did the good-natured banter between the lady and Jan.
When Jan went off to look at something that caught her eye, the lady said: ‘If everyone was more like my daughter there’d be no wars. She sees the good in everyone.’ She told me that she had another daughter also, and four grandchildren, and, to my complete astonishment said that this other daughter had always hoped to have a baby with Down’s herself, so much did she adore her sister. ‘Longed for’ were the words she used.
Primark tee-shirt — £3.50. Finding acceptance and love among the racks and rails — Priceless.
Today’s post from Our Lived Perspective is another old one. What brought it to mind was a thread in which someone had shared a negative comment they had either seen or received, posted apparently by the mother of an adult with Down’s Syndrome, who seemed extremely embittered with her life, who blamed her daughter for everything that was wrong in her life. Some queried what had happened to make her so bitter. Others, however, pointed out how much harder it must have been decades ago when parents did not receive the support that is available now, and we’re simply told that their children would never learn anything and there was nothing to be done. I’m sure it must have been.
But, if the encounters I have had with the parents of (now) older adults with Down’s Syndrome are anything to go by, there have always been families who thrived, regardless, even back then in those days of bleak prognosis. You may say that those who had a negative experience would not come and talk to me, because they would not be eager to talk about it, especially to a stranger, and I would have to agree. But if most parents in the past were struggling, were miserable, and embittered, then you would hardly expect anyone from the older generation to come up and talk to me at all. And yet, I have had many such encounters – positive encounters. I’d like to share a post about one particular encounter I had with an elderly gentleman, because I think it demonstrates the difference between the reality experienced by the families of those with Down’s Syndrome, and the mistaken perceptions held by the public (and medical profession) of what our lives must be like. It also addresses the question ‘what about the siblings?’
I had another life-validating encounter in town last week. I’ve had quite a few of them over the last six-and-a-bit years. When I say life-validating, I am not mistaking the term ‘life-affirming’; what I mean is … well, I’m struggling to put it into words exactly … but what I mean is this:
I was in a shop in town with Freddie. As we walked down the aisle in one direction, an elderly couple approached from the opposite. The man was frail and stooped, leaning heavily on a walking stick. Freddie shouted out a cheery ‘hello’. Hearing him, the man looked up, then made his way over to us. His face bore a rather wistful expression as he ruffled Freddie’s hair, and stroked his cheek. ‘What a grand little chap,’ he said. I could have sworn there was a slight edge of emotion to his voice as he repeated, quietly: ‘a grand little chap.’
‘We had some wonderful times with our Alan,’ he continued in a faraway voice. The lady with him, who I presume was his wife, explained that ‘Alan’ was the gentleman’s brother, who had also had Down’s Syndrome. She confirmed that they had, indeed, had many wonderful times with him over the years. We chatted for a bit — the man told me about the sort of things that Alan used to ‘come out with’. The couple’s smiles were genuine, twinkling in their eyes, but they seemed, as I observed, rather wistful.
Then the lady said: ‘He’s passed away now.’
‘But he was a good age,’ said the man. ‘He’d turned sixty.’ (Two generations ago, this would have been a very good age for a person with Down’s Syndrome.)
I knew then why they were so wistful — because he had brought so many good things into their lives, and they missed him. On second thoughts, perhaps this should have been entitled ‘The Loved Perspective’.