Break Out Your Crazy Socks! It's World Down Syndrome Day

It's a day to raise awareness, highlight diversity and get the conversation going about Down Syndrome.

Break Out Your Crazy Socks! It's World Down Syndrome Day

Those with the chromosomal condition known as Down Syndrome have often been referred to as "angels on Earth," and the hope is that World Down Syndrome Day will raise awareness about the condition and the people who work with those with Down Syndrome.

As part of the campaign, the #lotsofsocks hashtag has started making the rounds on Twitter. Students, politicians and office workers have been raising their pant legs in hopes that they will help get the conversation going about Down Syndrome and what the diagnosis is all about.

"Wearing different socks highlights diversity and creates awareness, stating that even though people may be different, we have to accept everyone the way they are," explains Michelle Spiteri, President of Malta's Down Syndrome Association, and mother to a young daughter with Down Syndrome.

#DownSyndrome is a chromosomal disorder which occurs when there is an error in cell division during the early stages of fetal development, which in turn results in a 21st chromosome. People with Down Syndrome tend to be impaired cognitively and have less physical growth than their peers.

They also have unique physical attributes; in addition to a lower-than-average birth length and weight, they have broad hands with short fingers, small noses and mouths, and their eyes tend to slant upwards somewhat. They might also have other cognitive issues, including autism spectrum disorder or ADHD.

Perhaps the woman who is the biggest public face of Down Syndrome is Madeline Stuart, a model who, as of February 2017, launched her own fashion line called "21 Reasons Why." Launched during New York Fashion Week, the line is designed to spread Stuart's message of inclusion, which is "that there are no boundaries regardless of your age, size, race, height, or disability."

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Down Syndrome is the most common chromosomal abnormality, affecting some 1 out of 700 births in the United States, or 6,000 people annually. The life expectancy of individuals with Down Syndrome varies from person to person, but on average hovers around 47 years old; in 1960, that life expectancy figure was only 10 years.

People with Down Syndrome are likely to be born with congenital heart defects and are at higher risk for developing cataracts, acquiring leukemia during infancy or early childhood, having hearing issues, obstructive sleep apnea, among other health concerns. According to a CDC survey, 40 percent of American families with children who had Down Syndrome reported that their child's health caused financial concerns. Over 40 percent of these same families have at least one family member who has stayed home in order to help with the child's health needs.

In Canada, there are usually educational assistants (EAs) in the classroom whenever a student with Down Syndrome is present. The EA has a range of functions in these instances, which may include scribing for the student, reading with them, helping them navigate through research; all of this, of course, depends on the level at which this particular student is functioning. In many respects, EAs can be thought of as the student's cheerleader and taskmaster, as they help the student go beyond his or her own expectations of what they are able to achieve.

Take for instance Melanie Segard, the 21-year-old French woman with Down Syndrome. The young woman fulfilled a lifelong dream recently and presented the weather forecast on national television. After the experience, she took to Twitter to express her pride.

"I am different, but I can do lots of things," she tweeted.

So, on this World Down Syndrome Day, raise awareness. Learn about what Down Syndrome is really about. Everyone, from families and friends to teachers and EAs, to those with Down Syndrome itself, will no doubt appreciate it.

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Christina St-Jean
Christina St-Jean
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Christina St-Jean

I'm a high school English and French teacher who trains in the martial arts and works towards continuous self-improvement.

See all posts by Christina St-Jean