The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Food & Health

May 1, 2014

How to teach kids about people with disabilities

Many parents struggle with how to talk to their kids about disabilities, according to Michelle Sie Whitten, executive director of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation.

In 2009, the foundation began holding the "Be Beautiful Be Yourself" fashion show in Colorado to benefit the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome, and to highlight the abilities of people with Down syndrome.

"We wanted to put the paradigm on its head and make the person with Down syndrome the center of attention," Whitten said. "You have a person with Down syndrome . . . paired with a Hollywood or sports celebrity, rocking the runway."

I recently spoke with Whitten, whose 10-year-old daughter Sophia has Down syndrome, about common misconceptions and how parents can teach their children to have empathy, respect and compassion for people with disabilities. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation.

               

Q: Tell me about your daughter.

               

A: She's like any child, any typical child. She really enjoys being with her family, she loves being with her friends, she loves anything associated with school and the fun things at school. . . . She loves ballet. She's taking piano lessons, and she likes it a lot. Not as much as ballet, but she certainly enjoyed showing off at her first recital. She loves food (particularly spaghetti and meatballs and sweet and sour spare ribs) and likes to travel. . . . All of her desires and likes and interests are very similar to any kid, but of course she does have some challenges as well.

               

Q: What are the most common misconceptions people have about Down syndrome?

               

A: There are so many. There's this idea that our children can't learn, that they can't speak well, that they are difficult to manage in a school or sports setting. There are even physical stereotypes, that they all look alike, with their tongue hanging out, and they drool. . . . People think they can't have a job, get married or go to college. . . . When people with Down syndrome didn't have access to medical care and were put in institutions, in the 1980s, their life expectancy was 28. With people growing up in their homes and being provided medical care and going to local schools, today the average life span is almost 60 years.

               

 Q: What do you wish parents would tell their children about Down syndrome?

               

 A: A person is not a label, and Down syndrome doesn't define them. First and foremost, it's a kid that you like or find challenging for whatever reason. Everyone has their own strengths and challenges, their own kinds of intelligence. . . . We often talk to parents who say, "Your sister or brother can learn that, but it may take longer for them." The big question is, "Is that because of Down syndrome?" And they say, "It could be, or it could just be how your sister learns."

We encourage parents not to use language that provides limitations or negative stereotypes, like they'll never do this or they'll die early or never learn math or how to make change.

               

Q: What should an adult say to the parent of a child with a disability?

               

A: When Sophia was born, I had some of my friends confide in me and say they didn't know what to say. Sophia was giggling or grabbing things or commando crawling, and people weren't saying what they said with other babies. They're afraid it will insult you. It won't. It will make you feel good to provide that baby with all the same accolades and encouragement you provide any baby. That's what the parents - and even the child - need to hear. When the baby is born, the first thing you say is congratulations and ask about the baby, while keeping in mind that possibly the mom is going through a bit of a depression. Keep it in context, but still treat [the child] like a typical baby. . . .

A friend of ours was shocked, then said, "You're going to have a different experience, but it's going to be great, just like any kid." . . . For those who had planned a child with the person they love and they care about, that baby is still 50 percent you and 50 percent him, and you're going to see that more than you see Down syndrome.

 

1
Text Only
Food & Health
  • Health insurers owe Iowans nearly $1.8M in refunds

    The federal government says insurers owe Iowans nearly $1.8 million in refunds because of a provision in the Affordable Care Act.

    July 24, 2014

  • Agents get subsidized 'Obamacare' using fake IDs WASHINGTON (AP) — Undercover investigators using fake identities were able to secure taxpayer-subsidized health insurance under President Barack Obama’s health care law, congressional investigators said Wednesday.The weak link seemed to be call cente

    July 24, 2014

  • Almost half of America's obese youth don't know they're obese

    The good news is that after decades of furious growth, obesity rates finally seem to be leveling off in the U.S.. The bad news is that America's youth still appear to be dangerously unaware of the problem.

    July 23, 2014

  • Illinois patients to docs: 'What about marijuana?'

    Illinois doctors, nursing homes, hospitals and hospice organizations are ramping up for their role as gatekeepers in the state's new medical marijuana program.

    July 23, 2014

  • Amanda Stecker Herbs make a better way to flavor meals Summer is a season full of fresh herbs. This is the best time of year to take advantage of the fresh herbs in the grocery store. Herbs add a boost of flavor without added sodium and are rich in antioxidants. Herbs are easy to incorporate into everyda

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Genome Genetic mapping triggers new hope on schizophrenia WASHINGTON, D.C. — Scientists have linked more than 100 spots in our DNA to the risk of developing schizophrenia, casting light on the mystery of what makes the disease tick.Such work could eventually point to new treatments, although they are many y

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • An oncologist uses scorpion venom to locate cancer cells

    Olson, a pediatric oncologist and research scientist in Seattle, has developed a compound he calls Tumor Paint. When injected into a cancer patient, it seems to light up all the malignant cells so surgeons can easily locate and excise them.

    July 22, 2014

  • Obamacare hit by ruling, but subsidies to continue

    A federal appeals court delivered a potentially serious setback to President Barack Obama's health care law Tuesday, imperiling billions of dollars in subsidies for many low- and middle-income people who bought policies.

    July 22, 2014

  • Bice Nurses earn Daisy awards

    CLINTON — Two Clinton nurses recently earned Daisy awards.Mercy Medical Center nurses Jodie Atkinson and Kristen Bice earned the awards that is rewarded to extraordinary nurses. Atkinson began her career in nursing at Mercy Medical Center in 1995 on

    July 22, 2014 2 Photos

  • Hospitals let patients schedule ER visits

    Three times within a week, 34-year-old Michael Granillo went to the emergency room at Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles because of intense back pain. Each time, Granillo, who didn't have insurance, stayed for less than an hour before leaving without being seen by a doctor.

    July 21, 2014

Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.