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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Stereotypes

One of the most common stereotypes you hear about Down syndrome is any variation of "they are always so happy...they are always such happy people...etc." Hearing that makes me cringe.

*Disclaimer, I don't presume to speak for all parents of children with Down syndrome, these are my own thoughts, feelings, and opinions on this particular stereotype.

So, why does it make me cringe?

As a parent with a newly diagnosed child you don't want to hear that your child is exactly like thousands of other individuals who you don't even know...especially when you haven't had a chance to get to know your own child first. You don't want thoughts and impressions to form your opinion of your own baby based on stereotypes. You want your child to grow and develop their own personality and show you who they are. Not everyone with Down syndrome is like everyone else with Down syndrome, they may have some similarities, but they all have different likes and dislikes and personalities.

The fact is people with Down syndrome are not happy all the time. They have, and experience, a range of emotions.

I will admit that in general Kayla does seem to have an easy-going temperament about her. When she was younger other kids could take toys right out of her hands without any protest from her. Now she is a little more possessive and will hold on to something saying "mine" when she had it first. She didn't cry a lot, and when she did it never lasted long...she got over things quickly. We've never experienced a full-out temper tantrum in the store...as in kicking and screaming. I could probably count on one hand the times she's had a "meltdown" - and those have been mild compared to what I've seen other kids do. Kayla says hi to almost everyone we pass and I've watched her run up to strangers and give them a hug. When she has to sit in the "naughty spot" she willingly walks herself over to the spot and sits down while quietly waiting for the timer to go off.

It sure doesn't sound like I'm doing much to dispel that stereotype does it? Well there is another side of Kayla.

She has developed quite the attitude the last couple of years. She can be defiant, disobedient, and stubborn (doesn't stop when told, doesn't listen, doesn't turn around and come back when called), she cries, gets mad, yells, she has hit, pushed, and thrown things (not hard, but still). She talks back and tells us no. When she doesn't want to go somewhere or do something she can pull the "drop and flop." The "drop and flop" is even more effective when you have hypotonia (low muscle tone) because you basically become a wet noddle (ever try to make a wet noodle stand up?).

Simply put, she isn't happy all the time.

For me, the implications this stereotype has when I hear it are:
- It sounds as if people with Down syndrome are all the same
- It robs them of their own unique and individual personalities
- It implies they are one-dimensional and have no other emotions or feelings

I know it is said with the best of intentions, I know it's meant to be a positive statement, and in a way it is. I mean what's so bad about being thought of as a happy person? There are certainly worse things to be called! I'm not faulting anyone for saying that; so if you have said something like that please know that I'm not offended!

Get It Down; 31 for 21

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40 comments:

Mom24 said...

Very well said. You want, as we all do, for your child to be seen as an individual. She deserves that. Anything else, really, smacks of ignorance. I'm sure once people get to know Kayla, they realize what a unique individual she is with her own individual qualities. You are so wise to watch out for this though. No one wants their child to be lumped in a box and categorized.

Karly said...

Great post. I completely agree. Sometimes I just want to invite people who say those things to my house on a day when she is a cranky, crabby, typical toddler!

chelle said...

Very well said. Generalizations positive or negative are unhealthy and potentially harmful.

Heidi said...

All I can think is, "good for her." Be yourself, have your emotions and show those who don't know who you are. I can totally see where this is all coming from. My son & I do a playgroup with a sweet little girl who has Down Syndrome and believe me, she's happy, she's fiesty, she's a beautiful individual.

Mom/Mil/GM said...

I think we got to see for ourselves that Kayla definitely doesn't live up to that stereotype when you guys were here in August :-)

andria said...

I babysat a girl with DS from the time she was in fourth/fifth grade until I moved when she was starting high school. She was definitely her own person. She was a typical teenager who wanted to shop at the mall and have a boyfriend and would voice her disagreement over something she wouldn't want to do and became very cunning to get her way. She was way smarter than "normal" people gave her credit for and she used it to her advantage. She knew what she was doing. I loved her fiercly and after I got over my need to "help her" we got along famously. DS was just a very small part of who she was.

annie said...

She is her own little person! I understand about the stereotypes.

Omaha Mama said...

I've known plenty of people who don't fit this stereotype. Like any other stereotype, it's not true for everyone. In fact, I've known some people with Down syndrome who were flat out crabby. So I've never bought into that one.

Great post, btw.

datri said...

Hmmmm, maybe the "drop and flop" thing is an appropriate sterotype, sheesh, how many times does my Kayla do THAT, LOL.

My Mom gave me the "they're such happy people" line. Then followed it up with "but their parents aren't". I almost choked on my water when she said that.

A Life Full of Love said...

Well said (er, typed)! I hate stereotypes of all kinds. And I have heard this statement quite a bit.

Anonymous said...

Well said!! I, like you cringe when someone says that to me. Carly is her very own person. She has ups and downs, just like everyone else. I wish people could see that our kids are more like everyone else, than they are different.
Joany and Carly (Ds 1/2/02)
carepage
carlyscarepage100

starrlife said...

Right there with Ya! My daughter certainly has some winning ways and a sunny side personality but she can be very clear and decisive about what she wants. I seem to observe and hear that the characteristic that many people with DS share is an ability to look at the positives first, what I see as a kind of excellent emotional intelligence. But certainly each person is an individual and has unique talents and personalities. Good post!

Jeanette said...

I SOOOO know what you mean. I have heard that SO many times, I can't even count. I did chuckle when you said that your description of her didn't discount the comment, but still it is a sterotype. I TOTALLY have the same issue. Syd is really easy going MOST of the time. Let me tell you, she is cutting three teeth (2 molars) and she is NOT happy. Just like any other baby, she is a total crabby pants.

BTW, love the description "Drop and flop". I haven't seen it in Syndey yet... but I have seen it in a few of her older friends.

Sunny said...

I thought Antalya was the only one that did the "drop and flop". She does it several times a day (whenever she doesn't get her way). It's the worst when I'm holding her and she decides to do it, because no matter how hard I try to keep holding on, she immediately slips through my hands.

Tracey said...

YOU GO GIRL!!!! :0)

Nicely put!

Tracey

Christy said...

wonderful post! I totally agree. My Henry's the same way - now that he's almost 5, he's just a big, stinky, grumbo with a strong opinion and no patience. Only sometimes, though. But from what I'd hear when he was born, he'd just be a complacent ray of sunshine 24/7.
I'm really enjoying reading your 31 for 21! If you want, I'm doing mine on my 2nd blog here:
http://motherhoodunscripted.today.com/

DeAnna said...

Well said! I don't like stereotypes at all and I hate that it always seems to come from people who have no experience in what they are talking about. Although, I can't imagine Kayla being anything but sweet -- then again I guess you're not going to post the pictures of Kayla throwing a fit. :)

Jeannie said...

Exactly! I've tried to tackle how I feel about this very same thing sooo many times, but you've put it way more eloquently than I ever could. Thank you for posting about this.

Karen said...

I was just reading your blog, when Emma popped in, recognised the photo with Kayla and wanted to know if Kayla was missing her - not that they've met, but Emma classes her as her 'sheep' friend now. Getting back to your post, I must say that before reading your blog and learning about Kayla my understanding of Down's Syndrome was limited, to the happy cliche, being artistic and creative...but what has been so great for myself and many, many is that you have shared the truth of Kayla's life which is varied, wonderful and regular and I for one have been humbled, blessed and changed for ever. You have made a definitive mark Michelle and I'm glad to have been able to get to know more about you and your family via blogland. Both Kayla and Lucas look great and I so enjoy all the photographs and news!

Tammy said...

I think the reasons you described about why you don't like hearing this stereotype make perfect sense. Every child is a creation of God and thereby unique- no one is exactly like them! Great post!

Tammy said...

P.S...Come on over- you may want to enter my giveaway! :)

Bonita said...

I'm glad you shared your perspective. I'm one of those people who has made that statement a time or two and I had no idea it was offensive in any way. For me, happiness is such an admirable trait so when I've said it, I was saying it in a very complimentary way. It's a trait I wish I had more!

I notice that your first commenter said it smacks of ignorance. Well, I suppose it does, but for those of us who have never lived with a Down's Syndrome child or known one up close and personally, that happy side is often all we've seen. I appreciate your enlightenment on the issue.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that while the comment is offensive, please know that those of us who have made it in the past (something I won't do again) didn't realize how it might be taken and were probably trying to be complimentary. I never meant that all Down's syndrome people were clones of one another, but simply that they seem to share a common trait. I might say the same thing about people of a certain nationality or religion or even members of the same family. While I don't like stereotyping people, I can't say that I'm 100% perfect in not doing it- obviously!

One thing I do know is that your blog has opened my eyes to a lot of things. When I come to your blog I don't come to read about a child with Down's Syndrome. I come to read about a little girl named Kayla who is beautiful and full of life. That I've gotten an education on Down's Syndrome is a sidenote. Thanks for sharing your sweet daughter with us, even those of us who are a tad ignorant. Smile.

Shannon @ Gabi's World said...

We always tell people when they say that, "Oh yeah... spend one day at our house and you'll think differently!" Gabi is very moody and very often moody... and when she is lovable... she is so very lovable!

Tricia said...

Well put! Georgia is FAR from "always happy" and I love her all the more for it! She gives me a run for my money!! She too, tends to have a more "calm" demeanor...but she's fiery!

Karen said...

I know that wet noodle that you speak of very well. And it's a highly effective toddler strategy.

The Khaje Khronicles said...

Great post.

Chrystal said...

That comment annoys me and I never know what to say in return. Maybe they're saying it because they don't know what to say in the first place? Hm. Whatever. It's not like when people meet me and see that I'm Black they're compelled to ask if I'm a good dancer. They find something else to talk about and wish the same was true with my daughter and Ds. Do folks that pull the "happy all the time" card honestly think they're the first person to ever say that to us? Seriously?

Tracey said...

I don't blame you. Any stereotype, even one with good intentions, is degrading as it puts you into a category before you ever get a chance to prove yourself any other way.

It's like saying:

All boys are aggressive.

All girls are weak.

Children from "fill in the country/ethnicity" are so beautiful.

Etc.

I hate them, because NOT all boys are aggressive, NOT all girls are weak, and NOT every child from that country is beautiful.

Michelle said...

I'm very glad you write about these things. I can tell from your posts that Kayla definitely has her own personality.

PEA said...

That is a very good point, Michelle, we certainly shouldn't stereotype these children. Kayla may have Down Syndrome but she's also a typical child with her own unique character. No one is exactly like her, Down Syndrome or not:-) xoxo

Michelle said...

I like what Bonita had to say. I heard another situation similiar to this from another parent of a child with a disability. And no offense to you Michelle, but seeing it from another side (and seeing this trend recently), sometimes people can take almost anything and turn it around to something the speaker didn't intend. You are correct in thinking that we are being sterotypical when saying such things as they are all happy, but I often hear lots of things. What I've hear more often is "they're very stubborn." That's not always true, either, but alot of times, it is. Does the stereotypical saying "Redheads need to be careful in the sun" offend some redheads? I think if there is *anything* different or special about you (tall, short, ethnicity, special need, mole on your face, etc), you are going to constantly get comments, some of them stereotypical. It's just human. I've said they are happy, I've said they are stubborn. I'll probably say it again. Maybe I'm offensive, but sometimes I mean it in an educational way to get other folks to understand a disability better with the understanding that they are smart enough to figure out I don't intend it to mean everyone that happens to have that disability. I don't think just because it's a "stereotype" it's necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it's a fact about a population in general. The word 'stereotype' inherently implies negativity. Maybe we should say it's an observation. I'm sorry it makes you mad, and it probably makes you even madder when people like me say "I didn't mean it that way..." Sorry! :)

Amy said...

Yesterday I met a little girl named Haley with DS and she was a shy little buttercup. So different than my own child! She was wonderfully sweet in her own way. I adore children with special needs because they seem to defy a mold. To me that is magic.
xoxo
Amy

Renee said...

wonderful post!! Kayla has gotten so big (pictures from your side bar) ~ the time really does fly by fast.:) Hope y'all are having a great week.

Killlashandra said...

It's good to speak out again stereotypes. People fall into using them far to easily because it's easier to follow along with the herd than to make a stand about your own values and beliefs and be labeled different.

Great post!

And for the record, W.W. says hi to everyone no matter where we are and hugs complete strangers too. ;)

Robin said...

Thanks for sharing. When someone makes the comment, "oh, they are such happy children". I tell them, "happy parents make happy children". I know plenty of children with DS who do not have a cheery disposition. Sydney is proving to be just as happy as Morgan because Her parenst are happy & always smiling. Don't you see the same in Lucas? Good parents make great kids!!! :)))

philip1111 said...

You've written a really interesting post. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Kimberly said...

Amen! When people say that line to me all I can thinking about is my son taking his sisters doll and trying to throw it in the dogs kennel. What I want to say to them, sometimes, is "He's Four!!" I think these kinds of posts are just the things we're trying to raise awareness for. Someone with Down syndrome has just as many emotions and feelings as any other person, they're not "just" happy all the time.

Christina said...

Kallie definately isn't happy all the time! She gets her feelings hurt, she gets frustrated and let me tell you she lets you know about it!

Sue said...

You're right. It can be so easy to fall into the trap of stereo-typing. I think most people have done it at one time or another. It's something one has to be conscious of. No one wants to be lumped in and it's something that needs to be remembered.

Kayla's lucky to have you. She's such a sweet girl - crankiness and all. :)

shannon.breanna said...

oh my if i had a dollar for everytime i was told that you should see her when i have to dress her or she hears no happy all the time NOT (but she can be very funny)lol