5 Compliments You Need to Stop Giving About Children with Down Syndrome

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People are awesome. Everywhere we go, my three year old daughter who has Down syndrome is a freaking ROCK STAR. People make a special point to come up to her and say ‘Hi’ and love on her a little bit. It’s really great.

Mostly.

Then there are times…well… that well-meaning, very nice people say things that just drive me crazy. I know that they are just trying to be nice. But whether it’s because I hear these things all of the time, or because they just aren’t the reality of the world I live in, there are a few compliments that make me batty…

1. “Children with Down syndrome are a gift from God.” This one is not untrue, and it doesn’t really bother me…I just hear it all of the time. A lot of the time, they tell me this while my other children are standing with me. I want to lean down to my boys and say, “Did you hear that, just kids without Down syndrome. Suckers.”

All kids are gifts from God. The other thing that gets me about this is that by saying this, I feel like children with Down syndrome are put on a pedestal. I shouldn’t be complaining about this, but that pedestal further separates her from her peers, and honestly, makes me feel like I can’t just say she’s being a bratty three year old from time to time. People act like I’m committing sacrilege when I talk about my daughter like any of my other kids when they were toddlers.

2. “She’s so happy and easy all of the time!” My daughter is pretty happy. You know what? She’s about as happy as ANY of my other non-chromosomally enhanced kids are. Stereotypes do exist for a reason, and generally, it is seen that people with Down syndrome are happier in nature. This does not mean that they are happy or are easy all of the time. Abby is 2, and does what other kids her age do: throws tantrums, gets into things, colors on EVERYTHING, breaks stuff and freaks out. She has her own personality and can get mad as hell at you if you give her cause. One of my friends said something about her own child with Down syndrome that made me laugh: “She has Down syndrome, not a freaking lobotomy!”

3. “She hardly looks like she has Down syndrome!” Uhm? Yeah she does. She has a mixture of mine and her father’s features, expressed with the presence of that extra chromosome. She has all of the “classic” features of Down syndrome: the almond shaped eyes, the low set ears, and the lack of bridge in her nose. Saying that she doesn’t look like she has Down syndrome actually stings a bit. It feels like you’re trying to say that she’s pretty in spite of her chromosomal makeup. I think she’s beautiful because of it.

There is a difference in saying she doesn’t look like she has Down syndrome and that you don’t notice her Down syndrome. I love it when people just see Abby. They just see my beautiful daughter

4. “Just think! It will be like having a little kid living with you forever! Your child will never grow up!” First off, this one just isn’t true. Adults with Down syndrome aren’t children trapped in bigger bodies. They have life experiences, they learn, they fall in love, they do just about everything other adults do. It doesn’t mean that she won’t need significant, ongoing care throughout her life. And, though being a parent is super rad…I’m not the kind of mom that gets all bent out of shape to think of her kids actually growing up. I want Abby to grow up. I want her to be independent. And she will be.

5. “I could never do what you do! You’re my hero!” GROAN. This is one of the biggest loads of crap I hear. I mean, I know people think that’s what I want to hear. It’s not. First off, how do you know you couldn’t do this? Had I been told that I’d be a mother of four kids, 2 with special needs, I would have said, “Yeah, no. Not me,” and run screaming from the room. You don’t know what you can handle until you get there, and until handling it is your only choice. Telling me that I’m your hero puts me on an impossible pedestal, too, that I can’t and won’t live up to. I’m a regular mom in an irregular situation. But these are my children, and I love and fight for them just as much as any other mom does.

Like I said, people are great. I’d rather have people tell me these things than the litany of shitty stuff people have said about her Down syndrome. I understand that people don’t know what to say and are just trying to be nice. And I love them for that. The worst thing you can say to a mother of a child with Down syndrome, by far though, is nothing at all.

Related post: I Never Knew I Wanted a Child with Down Syndrome

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    • 2

      peter murphy says

      Great great tenor and conclusion to this article. I always think of what I thought or how I felt about down syndrome before I was given the greatest girl in the world.

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  1. 3

    heather says

    wow. I know that a lot of well meaning people lose all reason when they have no experience with certain subjects, and try to be nice……but wow.
    this is what I do, please tell me if i’m doing something wrong or offensive:
    say hello to the parent.
    say hello to the child.
    say “I like your (hat, shoes, shirt, anything that is obviously new, or the kid is proud of)
    compliment their nice manners, if they are displaying those nice manners. if they aren’t, mention something about parenthood, to parent. “about that time, huh?” (witching hour. kids have hungry, cranky, meltdown, tired, shitty times just hardwired in there.)
    ask them if there is anything I can do, and if not, tell them they are doing a better job than I did. mine are not “special”, but still drive me insane.

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    • 5

      Anna says

      I heard the same thing about having twins… I didn’t think I could do it either before I had them. I tell people that you think you couldn’t do it untill you find out that you don’t have a choice, the you handle it. Same with having a special needs child or losing a child. 99% of people will find a way to go on and deal with the situation because you have no other choice.

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      • 6

        allison says

        I hear the ‘i dont know how you do it’ a lot. My son with ds will be 3 in August, and (SURPRISE!) my typically developing daughter will be 2 in Sept. Yes, 1 year apart. I get asked EVERY SINGLE DAY IF THEY ARE TWINS. Without fail, unless I don’t leave the house. I also get the ‘i dont know how you do it!’ or ‘youve got your hands full!’ Yes, Im really really tired, but I love them and I just do what I have to do. You have no other choice. Same for any other parents, with 1,2,3,4 etc children. You just do what you need to do, because there is no option not to. Though there are some days where I just want to quit, so we end up watching netflix all day.. and Im ok with that :)

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  2. 7

    says

    Beautifully said…this reminds me of the time a friend of mine once told me that I didn’t treat my son as if he had special needs. She meant it as a compliment, but I thought it was an odd and somewhat offensive remark. Why would I treat my son any differently than my other kids?

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    • 8

      Wendy says

      Sadly, a number of parents do treat their children differently. I worked in a group home for adults and one of them had to be taught to feed herself because her parents spoonfed her until the age of 20. They just didn’t realize how much she was capable of.

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  3. 9

    Angela Burnfield Marsh says

    I agree. People need to learn that children with disabilities are people too. People with real hopes and dreams, just like the so-called "normal" people (normal, my ass). We get this all the time with my neice who has cerebral palsy + and people STARE at her like she's a freak show. Drives me insane and makes me want to scream "She has cerebral palsy, ya'll can quit being creepy now!!"

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  4. 10

    Lisa Tompkins says

    I totally agree. That is why I have written a children’s book called “Why Are You Looking At Me? I Just Have Down Syndrome”. My 23 yr old daughter has DS and we have been dealing with the insane comments and stares for years. We are taking our book into daycare centers and preschools to read and maybe the education will begin with them!

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  5. 13

    Safe than sorry says

    I understand all of the frustration at these comments. But I think people mean well, generally. None of those comments were intended to hurt or disturb–which is why I just keep my mouth shut. It is so easy to offend or say the wrong thing when you are confronted with a situation that is different than your own–it is best to just not say a damn thing rather than say something knicker-twisting.

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    • 14

      Karen McGregor says

      Yes, you can say something, just as you would to anybody else you might bump into, even just ‘hi, how’s it going…’ or ‘lovely day, what are you up to?’….. see how easy it is to communicate in a relaxed way. I have a 15 year old son with D.S. and he is more than happy to have a conversation when someone talks to him!

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  6. 15

    Kelly Lucia says

    I absolutely love this, and I'm so glad you said it. Kids is kids, and moms is moms, and it would be a great relief if everyone could stop condescending to both because of some perceived "imperfection".

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  7. 16

    Beth Foster says

    I learned a lot from this article, but the last sentence confuses me. I would think she would want people to say nothing about her childs differences, treating her the same as all the rest of the kids. Maybe she means she doesn't want to be treated like a pariah…it's a little unclear. Still, good piece.

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