Down syndrome acceptance month: Changing views on the condition

Updated: Oct. 11, 2021 at 6:00 PM CDT
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - One in every 700 children in this county are born with Down syndrome, making it one of the most common chromosomal conditions in the nation, according to the CDC.

October is Down syndrome acceptance month, and many of us have some understanding of how Down syndrome affects people, but few of us know exactly how it impacts a person’s life.

When watching staff at Beyond Boundaries Therapy in Fargo work with children with Down syndrome, you can’t help but smile.

“He’s grasping and holding himself up, so he’s using his grasp muscle, so his hand muscle. He’s also strengthening his hands and his shoulders because he has to stabilize. But also, his belly muscles because he has to keep himself up in the monkey pit,” says Andrea Hensrud, an occupational therapist at Beyond Boundaries.

Hensrud often works with people who have Down syndrome, and she was inspired to go into this career because of her older brother, Charlie.

“He is the reason I am who I am.”

Hensrud now uses her experiences to help educate families on the needs for extra, interventional therapies.

“You’ll see individuals with Down syndrome look a little flaccid, or some people might call it floppy. Well, they’re not floppy, their muscles just aren’t firing at the capacities ours are.”

In previous years, Down syndrome was serious misjudged. It was first categorized as Mongolism in 1866 by John Langdon Down, it’s now named after him. In the 18-1900s it was often linked to immorality, which is false.

“They are just happy to be present and they are really a great functioning piece of society,” Hensrud says.

Too often in the past, society shunned people with Down syndrome. Research from a video in 1969 produced by Syracuse University shows the antiquated views once held about the condition.

“For the benefits of the parents, brothers and sisters, it may be more beneficial to place a child in a state school,” the video says. “Here they will receive 24-hour care and supervision by competently trained personnel. Most trainable children adjust better to this type of environment.”

Today, we know that’s also false. It’s now those stigmas Hensrud is working to erase.

“Talk to them. They love to be social and they love to connect. They are full of stories and full of life and just because they have Down syndrome doesn’t mean they can’t be relatable or fun.”

Valley News Live is partnering with GiGi’s Playhouse in Fargo, the state’s only Down syndrome achievement center.

GiGi’s burned down this past spring and they need our help to build back better. GiGi’s is also partnering with the Engelstad Foundation, so every dollar raised will be matched.

You can donate to the cause right here.

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