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Down Syndrome Conference Debunks Myths, Encourages Normalcy

Yesterday, the National Trust, a group under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment dedicated to spreading awareness about special needs groups, held the first National Conference on Down Syndrome. We’d like to take a moment to appreciate this moment in special needs awareness.

Down syndrome is a chromosomal condition that occurs during conception, resulting in three copies of the 21st chromosome instead of the typical two. This excess genetic material affects cognitive development and typically leads to mild to moderate intellectual disability. Presently, there are no reliable statistics of the number of cases in India, but internationally, it’s estimated one in every 1000 to 1100 children is born with Down syndrome.

Society often attaches a stigma to people with special needs, considering them a burden. It’s not uncommon for people with special needs to find themselves alienated, isolated and unsupported, treated like a problem that has no solution. But where many receive too little care, others may receive too much: In another extreme, some special needs children may be overly mollycoddled, treated like a fragile, incapable creature that must be protected at all times, even at the cost of individual growth. In both cases, the capabilities and fulfillment of those individuals are ignored.

Instead of feeding these two extremes, the conference has communicated accurate facts about what Down syndrome is and what people with the condition are capable of. Clearing misconceptions, the conference has chosen to highlight the fact that individuals with Down syndrome can be self-sufficient, valuable members of society, who can and should be integrated into schools alongside typical children, pursue higher education and hold down jobs. A shining aspect of the conference was that it invited people with Down syndrome to speak for themselves.

There is no denying individuals with Down syndrome and their families require support — and we hope the next step by the government is to devote resources toward that. But in a country where misconceptions run high, we are happy that the government is making efforts to debunk myths and spread accurate information — the first critical step to empowering people with Down syndrome, like anyone else, to live a life of dignity and opportunity.

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