That Mythical, Magical Chromosome

There’s a lot of talk lately about the magic of the extra chromosome that results in trisomy-21, or Down syndrome. I don’t think this is a new development by any means, but lately it just seems like a prevalent topic – and I’m not talking about misguided stereotypes held by the general public, I’m talking about parents of kids with Down syndrome. Some of the very same people who advocate for equality and inclusion, who promote the whole “more alike than different” campaign, also insist that there is something about that extra chromosome that endows people with Down syndrome with extraordinary qualities and abilities: they’re more pure . . . they more intuitive . . . they’re more loving, and their love is more pure . . . they’re more compassionate . . . they’re more empathetic . . . they’re more forgiving . . . they can see inside a person, past the BS . . . plus, they’re more stubborn, and more defiant. I’ve heard it referred to as “the love chromosome.” Oh, and all the talk about them just being so special.

Enough already.

I’ve never liked this kind of talk – not even way back when I was new to this whole Ds thing and Finn was just a squalling infant. I remember reading Gifts and seeing a blurb on the back cover that read,

This fine book helps dispel the fear and misinformation about Down syndrome that many parents and prospective parents face. As these deft essays convey, the world would be a sweeter place with more Down syndrome citizens, not fewer. — George F. Will

It didn’t sit well with me even back then. It’s like saying, “Gosh, they’re so special! Everybody should get themselves one!”

These are all myths, and they only serve to further separate people with Down syndrome from the general population. People with Down syndrome do not have special powers. Sure, some – maybe a lot! – of them are stubborn. But so are a lot of people who don’t have Down syndrome. Sure, some are especially loving – and some are not – and many, many, many people who don’t have Down syndrome are especially loving – or especially not loving. And while I don’t think that having as many kids as I do makes me any sort of expert, it does give me a somewhat unique opportunity for comparison, and I will tell you that, yes, Finn is extremely stubborn – but so is Annabelle; Finn is affectionate, but not any more so than any of my other kids; he’s never looked into my soul as far as I know (although that could be because I may not have a soul . . .); and what’s this whole “pure” thing? It’s possible that Finn may remain a little more innocent and less worldly than his siblings as they grow up (although I can’t say for sure), but, put bluntly, that has to do with the capacity to intellectualize – not a specialness unique to a third copy of the twenty-first chromosome.

I’m certainly not saying that people with Down syndrome are no different than their typical peers. They are different in many ways – and I’ve never gotten on board with the whole “more alike than different” campaign anyway. Difference is nothing to compensate for or be afraid of. I just think that seeing them in this glow, with these almost supernatural traits, only serves to reinforce society’s feeling that they are a different class of human.

I wonder if this propensity to see almost superhuman qualities in our kids is really a reflection of this fierce protectiveness we parents tend to have of our kids with Ds. Or perhaps it stems from the initial need to cope with the knowledge that our kids are different. In other words, maybe what’s actually special about our kids is how we love them – not how they are.

They’re people. Flawed, talented, quirky, confounding, people. But just people.

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