What is Down syndrome and can people with Down syndrome become independent? We ask Down Syndrome Association (Singapore) and a person with the condition to share their thoughts.
While it can be easy to be caught up in a bubble in Singapore, people with special needs are very present in our society and need our awareness, understanding and support. And with this month celebrating World Down Syndrome Day (21 March annually), now’s a good time to start. In order for everyone to come together and embrace differences, it’s important to understand what Down syndrome is. We caught up with Down Syndrome Association (Singapore) to find out what challenges persons with Down syndrome face.
Understanding Down syndrome
What is Down syndrome and how is it detected?
Down syndrome is a naturally occurring genetic condition caused by the presence of three chromosome 21 instead of two. This causes learning difficulties and gives rise to medical conditions such as heart and thyroid disorders, and vision and hearing problems. Typically, Down syndrome is recognisable at birth due to particular physical features such as almond-shaped eyes, small ears, flattened facial profile and reduced muscle tone. There may also be developmental delays and learning difficulties as the child grows. Down syndrome occurs in approximately one in 800 births.
Common misconceptions of Down syndrome
People tend to assume that Down syndrome is an illness, but it is actually a congenital genetic condition. Ignorance of the condition leads to people often believing that people with Down syndrome all look the same, they are unable to learn new things, and they cannot work or take care of themselves. This is not the case at all. In addition, there is a tendency to group Down syndrome together with other intellectual disabilities. However, despite similarities in traits or behavioural markers, each intellectual disability is different.
The appropriate terminology should be a child/person with Down syndrome, not a Down syndrome child/person.
Difficulties that people with Down syndrome face
People with Down syndrome tend to have low muscle tone, which affects gross and fine motor control. Depending on their level of control, some may take longer or require assistance to dress. They may also need a longer time to write and may have difficulties manipulating objects. Depending on their level of functioning, some may find it difficult to communicate and others may require support to travel.
Society is definitely more inclusive today, though more can be done to raise awareness and educate the public. We have encountered parents who were unable to enrol their child into a mainstream school as there was no support system in place. There are also instances of workplaces that are not as gracious as we would like for them to be.
How DSA(S) supports the local Down syndrome community
DSA(S) believes in early intervention and education – lifelong learning – as the key to an independent and enriched life for individuals with Down syndrome. It provides four key services:
- Children’s Education Services – early intervention for infants, toddlers and children of school-going age; support for parents in raising children with Down syndrome and those with Down syndrome enrolled in mainstream school and kindergartens.
- Adults Education Services – seeks to equip persons with Down syndrome aged 18 years and above with the necessary life skills to live an independent life.
- Enrichment Programmes – provides specially tailored performing arts, visuals arts, sports, literacy and numeracy programmes and helps people with Down syndrome develop and showcase their talents and skills.
- Family Support Services – provides assistance in legal, medical and psychosocial areas to ensure continuous development for parents/caregivers through various talks, workshops or activities. The fees may be subsidised to keep it affordable for parents.
So life as a person with Down syndrome does have its hurdles, and it’s very easy for people with Down syndrome to be misunderstood. But with the right support, success is absolutely attainable. We also spoke to Anna Ow, who is a person with Down syndrome, and she shared her experiences of her studies in a mainstream school. Through the Integrated Facilitation Support Programme (IFSP), she passed her PSLE and got into the Normal (Technical) stream in a mainstream secondary school.
Hi Anna, tell us a little bit about yourself and your family…
I am the youngest in our family of five. My father is stationed overseas. We communicate through video calls every day. When he comes back, our family go for meals and we love to go on holidays. My mother gave up her job to take care of me after I was born. She is always teaching me, guiding me, encouraging me and believing in me. She is a busy homemaker. I also have two loving brothers who are working. They help me with my maths and explain things to me. Now I love maths. I love to go to school. I love my family!
Did you face any challenges in school?
I face many challenges in school. During secondary one camp, while I was doing abseiling, I was afraid and dared not look down as I thought I was going to fall. However, I made it.
The taster modules (for the vocational subjects offered in the Normal (Technical) stream) were new to me. But, with the help of patient and compassionate teachers, I managed to pass.
Making new friends was also difficult as those who did not understand me bullied me and called me names. I either told my teacher or ignored the remarks and walked away with my real friends. I have good classmates who defended me. With the help of teachers and some kind classmates, the other classmates became better.
How did the Integrated Facilitation Support Programme (IFSP) help in your education?
IFSP helped me during my primary school education. My IFSP teacher would explain to me the areas I am weak at and helped me to understand the concepts. She prepared me for my exams.
What are your future plans?
I want to study hard to do well for my exams. I hope to do well for my ‘N’ levels and get a place at ITE to study nursing. My dream is to be a nurse.
That’s great, Anna! Good luck!