World Down Syndrome Day: seeing the person not the condition

24 March 2020
A child with Down syndrome hugs Pope Francis. Image: Vatican Media/Vatican News.


World Down Syndrome Day is an opportunity to change attitudes, champion inclusion, and celebrate the gifts of people with Down syndrome.

Down syndrome has always been a part of the human condition. It occurs when someone possesses a third copy of chromosome 21, instead of the usual two.

We decide

The United Nations designated 21 March as World Down Syndrome Day in 2011. This year’s theme is “We Decide.”

Initiatives around the world on this day are highlighting the effective and meaningful participation of persons with Down syndrome in both community and professional life. The aim of the event is to empower persons with Down syndrome, and those supporting them, encouraging greater inclusion, and overturning stereotypes.

We define

One of those stereotypes is referring to Down syndrome as a “disease,” rather than a condition. Persons with the syndrome are the first to remind you they are not defined by their condition: they are simply “a person who has Down syndrome,” a unique individual with extraordinary gifts and talents who wishes to be acknowledged as such.

We dream

Michael Gannon recently published his second book: a collection of poetry, entitled “A Song For You.”

Michael is 40 years old and lives in Ireland. He was on the organising committee for the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in 2018, and has shaken Pope Francis’ hand twice. The first time was when he was interning with Vatican Radio in 2013.

Michael also has Down syndrome.

His message on World Down Syndrome Day is to “stop looking at the condition and start seeing people. See our talents, skills, aspirations…and dreams,” he says.

We live the moment

Both Michael and his mother, May Gannon, spoke to Vatican Radio. May echoes her son’s advice saying that, too often, people “start out by focusing on the condition itself. It can take a while for the person to emerge,” she says. “But when the person does emerge, we realise he or she is really no different from anyone else.”

Living with a person with Down syndrome, May says, “is both rewarding and uplifting. It can be frustrating too, but it certainly takes you down a road you never thought possible.”

Both Michael and May agree: the key is “learning to take each day at a time. Learning to live the moment.”

Michael Gannon’s poem, “Life is what you make it,” is reproduced here, with his permission.

Life is what you make it.
Grab a hold and shake it.
Hold on tight and take it.
Don’t be afraid and fake it.

You may think I’m a dreamer.
More likely I’m a schemer.
You may think I’m a sinner.
But in truth I’m a winner.

I do my best.
Never mind the rest.
My life is blessed.
I’ll stand the test.

So life is what you make it.
Don’t lose your nerve and break it.

With thanks to Vatican News and Seàn-Patrick Lovett, where this article originally appeared.


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