My name is Brittany Schiavone and I’m an entrepreneur, an actress, a sister, a student, and a 27-year-old woman thriving with Down syndrome. Two years ago, I founded my own nonprofit corporation called Brittany’s Baskets of Hope, and my mission is to spread resources, support, and hope to families who have recently welcomed a baby with Down syndrome into their lives. Today, I’m here to tell you about Down syndrome and, most importantly, to remind you how great the world would be if we all treated each other with respect and kindness and cheer because, really, we’re all more alike than different.
In that spirit, here are 10 things you need to know about Down syndrome:
1. Down syndrome is not scary or bad.
It is not a disease or an illness, and it happens when a baby inherits one extra chromosome, the 21st. But, really, people with Down syndrome are friends, sisters, brothers, students, athletes, and artists just like you.
2. Individuals with Down syndrome go to school.
I started when I was six weeks old! They also graduate from high school, and some even attend college. I’m enrolled in college classes right now.
3. Just like you, individuals with Down syndrome are all unique.
We all have our own personalities and interests. I love to dance, act, and sing, while other people with Down syndrome may love to cook or to play football. Sound familiar?
4. When we talk about people with Down syndrome or other different abilities, it’s important to use what we call “person-first language.”
In other words, to remember that we’re people first, and that our disabilities are just one part of us. So instead of saying, “the autistic boy” or the “Down’s baby,” say: “the boy with autism” or “the baby with Down syndrome.” Because we all deserve not to be defined by labels but celebrated for everything that makes us who we are.
5. People with Down syndrome have jobs, earn money, and are active members of their communities.
Not only am I in charge of my nonprofit corporation, but I work at Party City. It’s important to remember that no matter who we are or how we’re born, we all have purpose.
6. And speaking of parties, individuals with Down syndrome hang out with friends and go to parties and concerts and movies.
Now that I’m 27, I even love to spend Friday nights with my girlfriends, gossiping over appetisers and mixed drinks.
7. Adults with Down syndrome are adults, indeed.
Once we’re in our twenties and beyond, we lead self-directed lives and some of us even move out into our own supported apartments. I have staff that support me in doing everything I want to do and I pride myself on being the boss of my own life.
8. Individuals with Down syndrome attend proms, date, gossip about celebrity crushes, and have real life romantic relationships.
If we’re talking about celebrity crushes, aren’t Derek Hough and Chris Colfer the cutest?
9. This one’s important. It’s never ok to use the r-word toward anyone with Down syndrome—or anyone at all.
The r-word is a derogatory, mean word and it hurts me when you say it. It should have no place in our vocabulary. Instead, we should lift each other up with kindness and love.
10. At the end of the day, we’re all more alike than different, and our differences do not make us less or better than anyone else.
Our differences make us beautiful and unique and allow us all to have different talents and gifts to share with the world. Remember that you have worth and purpose and that, no matter who you are, I know you can do anything you dream, as long as you put your heart and your mind and the unique essence that is you into it. Be you, courageously.