Image from Wikimedia Commons
At school we often relate diversity back to ethnic backgrounds, skin color, or religion, but rarely do we get the chance to assess the lives of those who face challenges everyday due to a chromosomal abnormality. The label “retard” is often ignorantly thrown around, but that is so trivial compared to the significant impact that one extra chromosome has had on not only their lives, but also the lives of others. Not only is it the beginning of October, it is also the beginning of Down Syndrome Awareness Month.
For those who aren’t familiar with the medical understanding of Down syndrome, it is also referred to as Trisomy 21. In class, we have learned that genes are made up of DNA. In a typical cell, 46 chromosomes are passed down to the offspring: 23 from each parent, and those chromosomes carry the genes. On a more detailed scale, Down syndrome occurs during meiosis of cell division. The process functions normally in the duplication of the chromosomes and the separation of the pairs into two cells. The next cycle of separation is the point where the error happens. Chromosome 21 does not separate from its duplicate resulting in each cell of the body having three copies of itself, instead of the usual two.
Simply having one additional chromosome doesn’t seem like it would affect much, right? Wrong. A few of the characteristics of Trisomy 21 include intellectual and cognitive disabilities, delayed development, distinct facial characteristics, possible heart conditions, and is also associated with multiple types of cancers. Even though it comes with those negative effects, the positive ones greatly overweigh those. To name a few of those positives, they now have several ways to achieve everything they’re capable of: from educational programs, to health care, to incredible support, and everything in-between, let’s just say the 400,000+ people with Down syndrome have wonderful opportunities. Down Syndrome doesn’t stop them from the incredible impacts they have on society, the love and affection they show towards people, the genuine personality they have, nor does it disable them from having talents and passions. Just like anyone else, people with Down syndrome experience the same emotions we do.
Why am I so passionate about this topic? Jessica Brundidge and Lauren Harding are two girls who have Down syndrome, but don’t get me wrong- they certainly don’t let that define them! Though they are very different, they both are two of the sweetest, most amazing, young women I know and they never fail to amaze me each and every day. Whether it’s the way they always are living in the present moment, or how the littlest things in life make them happy, I have learned so much from those crazy girls and their happiness truly is contagious. Even on the worst days, their smile is able to brighten up my whole world. Down syndrome or not, I am so proud to call Jessica and Lauren two of my best friends. “The only difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that one has a little ‘extra’,” and that insanely beautiful, unique “extra” has changed my life.