As I write this, it is Tuesday, March 21. What many don’t know is that this day is World Down Syndrome Day because the condition is caused by the triplication of the 21st chromosome (3/21). This date holds a special importance to me because of my nephew Cole.
Cole was born with Down syndrome and tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect, and was adopted by my sister and her husband in October of 2014. I was studying abroad on the HUA program and saw Cole once during a FaceTime with my sister. On Nov. 25 of that year, I woke up to several missed calls from my mom. Cole had passed away suddenly. During the short time he was part of our lives, I was across the world. I hadn’t even met him.
Cole still makes an impact on my family today. Pictures of him decorate our house, and he is remembered every year; some days more than others, like on his birthday or the day he passed. And since we had him, we all view Down syndrome differently.
I understand when people feel a little uncomfortable around those with Down syndrome; they can be unsure of what to say or do and how to interact with them. I used to feel awkward because Down syndrome was unfamiliar to me. Down syndrome can be unfamiliar and different, but should not in any way be avoided. Above all, keep in mind that those with Down syndrome aren’t stupid. Many of them attend college, live independently and get jobs.
It is because of that fact that I am surprised that calling people retarded is still freely used as an insult today. I had really hoped that most had come to realize how offensive it is years ago. My family sometimes refers to it as the “R” word.
Down syndrome is not something to be used as a punch line. It still angers me when someone sees something they think is stupid and the first thing that comes to their mind is “that’s retarded.”
I miss Cole. I wish with all my heart I could have seen his sweet face for myself instead of through FaceTime pictures. I wish I could have held him. But he will never be forgotten, and every March 21 will always be an important date for my family and me. I hope that those who read this will think twice about the things they say, because the idea that a part of who Cole was is used as a joke makes me sick. Above all, I encourage readers to interact with people who have Down syndrome if they find the opportunity. You never know what you might learn from them.