Sunday, July 29, 2012

I Don't Care That People Think My Kid Is "Happy"

There is a stereotype for individuals who have Down syndrome. It goes something like this, "People with Down syndrome are always happy." In some of the first real information you can find online about Down syndrome, there is a great article entitled, "Myths and Truths (about Down syndrome)" and if you haven't read it, you can check it out here.  About this "Happiness" problem, the National Down syndrome Society says:

"Myth: People with Down syndrome are always happy.
Truth: People with Down syndrome have feelings just like everyone else in the population. They experience the full range of emotions. They respond to positive expressions of friendship and they are hurt and upset by inconsiderate behavior."

Here's the thing:  I think that when people say that people with Ds are always happy, they don't literally mean ALWAYS. I think many people have positive experiences with people who have Down syndrome. I think stereotypes exist because there is some element of truth. I think that my son, Elijah's general demeanor is more "happy" than anything else. I'm not saying he doesn't cry or get upset or act stubborn or throw things or pull people's hair (mostly mine). He does all of those things. A LOT. 

Call me crazy, but I refuse to get upset or feel like my child is being marginalized because people say he's...gasp...Happy. 

We're a sensitive bunch, those of us who have a child with special needs. We need to advocate just a little harder, we need to toughen up just a little bit more, and we hurt when our children aren't seen for everything they are or when their "disabilities" are recognized first. However, there are a band wagon of parents who are so quick to respond to any kind of indication that people think their child with Ds might be especially happy.  One example is from a blog that I LOVE. You can read the post I'm referring to here. The writer shares an experience from when she was pregnant with her first child. The baby had 3 "markers" in an ultrasound that were consistent with Down syndrome. She found herself kind of excited.  Turns out, her baby was not born with Down syndrome and while she felt some relief that he wouldn't face those kinds of challenges, she was also disappointed. She was disappointed because her experiences with people, and children in particular, with Down syndrome had been so positive and life affirming. In the comments section of her post, many parents of children with Down syndrome were quick to jump at the chance to correct her, and say that (and I paraphrase) People with Ds are not always happy, they have a range of emotions, and to describe them as such is a burden that is unfair for them to carry.  Are. you. kidding. me. ?????  

I want to break down the barriers that say that my kid is limited. I want to break down the barriers that say that my kid is stupid. I want to break down the barriers that say that my kid is a drain on society. I want to break down the barriers that say that my kid is unworthy of life. THESE are the things that I think are both hurtful and untrue.  I'm not going to waste any breath or time on destroying the myth that my kid is always happy.  Because I think if you asked anyone who said this, they would clarify their statement to say that the statement "being happy all of the time", isn't meant to imply that this person doesn't experience a whole range of other emotions. 

 I don't get it. In this case, as a community, I think we could all take a collective breath on this one.  Would it be offensive to say, "Comedians are always funny."?  Are the comedians of the world going to come out en force to correct us that they have a full range of emotions and there are definitely times where they are not funny. Umm...don't think so. 

I plan on advocating for my children whenever necessary. Maybe I do wear the proverbial "rose colored glasses" when it comes to people's intent with their words. It's possible. However, for now, I really don't care that people think my kid is happy.

And here he is...not specifically being "happy", but content none the less...



Shannon said...

I love this, and your right to say it. I see the concern of how it can be dehumanizing to imply our kids are nothing but bubbles of ignorant happiness, but as you said, MOST people are not intending to imply that. Fiona is a very content baby, and really its something us 46 chromosome and self centered folk could learn from.

Kayla said...

What I don't understand, is why is it such a "burden" to be happy? I feel like that would be a good thing to think about Down's syndrome long as you are not judging them for the times they are not happy.

P said...

The implication is that the person is not capable of all emotions and that is taken as less than others ability to express these emotions. But there are typical people & personality types and even cultures that also share this stereotype in part. Another aspect is I believe the burden of trying to actually IN FACT BE ALWAYS HAPPY. I bet there are some with DS who do not share this stereotypical trait who might TRY to emulate it or who hear others around them discuss & indicate they are not party to this happy bug and that would be annoying to hear your whole life. I think that is too high of am expectation/"burden" of sorts.

I do agree that I'm not too swift to ever redirect a general comment along these lines but I do often reply with the other stereotype of being particular (aka stubborn) but I tend to couch it in terms of my typical daughter who also has this trait since birth but is Soooooo polite about her stubbornness that it's endearing.