October is Down syndrome awareness month, a month to celebrate the many ways we are all more alike than different.

What exactly is Down syndrome you may ask? “Down syndrome is a genetic disorder caused when abnormal cell division results in extra genetic material from chromosome 21”. Though individuals who rock an extra chromosome are presented with their own set of challenges that they strive to overcome, this does not limit them from leading meaningful, happy lives filled with milestones such as catching their first fish at a C.A.S.T. for Kids event.

Individuals who happen to have Down syndrome are first and foremost individuals, human beings worthy of all the love and respect this world has to offer. We all have the basic human need to have a sense of belonging, the desire to be contributing members of society, to be included and embraced. Though modifications may need to be made, individuals who have Down syndrome are constantly surpassing what is expected of them and reminding us of all they are capable of.

What can we do? When we do not know what to do, sometimes it seems easier to do nothing at all. So practically speaking, here are a few tangible ways to actively engage with individuals who have Down syndrome.

Make eye contact. Acknowledge these individuals with dignity and respect through intentional eye contact and a smile. Rather than avoiding interactions that may be uncomfortable or foreign, lean into the discomfort and choose to not just look, but rather truly see these individuals.

Continue to educate and familiarize yourself with Down syndrome and what these individuals are capable of. With education comes awareness and with awareness comes experience which can then lead to opportunities for these individuals. For example, there are organizations specifically dedicated to sending individuals with Down syndrome to college. These organizations aim to create awareness of these individuals and help them achieve their post-secondary dreams of higher education.

Be an advocate. Rather than succumbing to an “us” vs. “them” society, let’s bridge the gap with advocacy and empathy. Let’s choose to encourage and embrace rather than placing limitations on a group of people simply because of what they have and not who they ARE.

May we be a society that moves towards these individuals, towards creating opportunities and towards each other as we seek to understand each other learning that we are all more alike than different.

At C.A.S.T. for Kids, we believe every individual is worth celebrating, can overcome limitations and have a victorious day. At our events, our volunteers intentionally get at every child’s level, seeing them and believing in what they CAN do and celebrating with an awards ceremony to commemorate a day where they were victorious!