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.
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.
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.