Some of you may know that I was born with Down syndrome. Some of you may be aware that I have a disability, but are not sure of what it is.
Down syndrome is a genetic condition that occurs when an individual has an extra copy of chromosome 21. Typically, each person has two copies (one from their mother and one from their father) of each of our 23 chromosomes for a total of 46 chromosomes. This extra chromosome 21 alters the course of development and causes low muscle tone, small stature, almond-shaped eyes, developmental disabilities, and other characteristics associated with Down syndrome. One in every 691 babies is born with Down syndrome, making it the most common genetic condition.
Up until about 25 years ago, the prevailing belief was that people with Down syndrome could not learn, so children were not even allowed to attend regular schools. Now, students with Down syndrome are included in their neighborhood schools, have jobs, and even vote. Some go on to college and get married. When I was born, doctors told my parents that I might not read or write. My parents refused to believe that and fought to have me included in my local elementary school. Since then, I have taken a regular curriculum and currently have a 3.7 GPA. I am going to be the first person with Down syndrome to graduate with a standard diploma from Wilson in June.
I spoke at the White House in the fall to talk about how important it is for students with Down syndrome to have access to regular classes, and not just be put in all special education classes, so they can reach their full potential. I have been challenged by being in regular classes, and it has allowed me to become part of the Wilson community.
Having Down syndrome just means that you have an extra chromosome 21. We are still regular people who like the same things everyone does – going shopping, getting Starbucks, or going to concerts. If you meet someone with Down syndrome, look past their appearance and try to get to know them. I bet you’ll find they’re pretty cool.
*This article appeared in the March edition of The Beacon