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Web letter by Deborah Leigh Norman: Down syndrome no reason not to keep calm

Many of you have probably seen the bright red “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters that were originally printed by the British government during World War II in 1939 and discovered years later with items from an auction. Or perhaps you’ve enjoyed one of the hundreds of parodies such as “Keep Calm and Eat Cupcakes” or “Keep Calm and Love Penguins.” My favorite is “Keep Calm – It’s Only an Extra Chromosome.”

March 21 was World Down Syndrome Day. This day was chosen to represent the three copies of the 21st chromosome, instead of the typical two copies, that are a diagnosis of the genetic condition trisomy 21 or Down syndrome, which is named after Dr. John Langdon Down. It is a day to educate people about Down syndrome and to advocate for the rights, inclusion and well-being of people with Down syndrome.

When my son was born with Down syndrome, my first reaction was not to keep calm. I had many questions, some of which could not be answered, but I kept trying. I called several moms whose names I was given by family members or friends or neighbors – anyone who knew a mother of a child with Down syndrome. I wanted answers, but if I couldn’t have that, I wanted to learn from them. I remember one mother saying, “It’s going to be OK” over and over. I remember thinking, is she crazy? I was just told my son has a cognitive disability and she keeps telling me it’s going to be OK? Looking back, I can see she was trying to tell me to keep calm.

The Keep Calm poster was actually the third in a series of posters created by the British Ministry of Information. The first two were widely used, but the Keep Calm poster was never used. It had been created to strengthen morale in case of a large-scale attack that never happened, so they weren’t necessary and placed in storage. Most of my worry after the birth of my son wasn’t necessary, either. I have learned that people with Down syndrome are more like everyone else than different and the mom I spoke with years ago was right, it is all OK.

There is so much to appreciate about people with Down syndrome. Appreciating people with Down syndrome is not just for their friends and families, but for all people who believe in a good quality of life and human rights for everyone. Here in our state, the Indiana Postsecondary Education Coalition is partnering to create programs that will give higher education options to people with intellectual disabilities. Locally, the Down Syndrome Association of Northeast Indiana is committed to enhancing the lives of those affected by Down syndrome. Please visit www.dsani.org to find out more.

There are an estimated 7 million people with Down syndrome in the world, and the CDC estimates that each year about 6,000 babies in the United States are born with Down syndrome. Next time you meet someone with Down syndrome or any difference, remember we’re all different and keep calm.

DEBORAH LEIGH NORMAN

Fort Wayne

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