11 July 2013

Nature v. Nurture - T21 Edition

I just want to dedicated one more post to Down syndrome for the time being. Talk, theorize, vent. And then I'm going to shut up about it for a while, because, to be honest, I'm a little Down syndrome-d out. I'm sick of talking about it, reading articles about it, explaining it. I want to pretend for a few weeks at least, that I have a cranky cute little two-year-old who honest-to-goodness learned how to sign "please" and "ice cream" after the first try.

Bueno? Bueno.

First, a disclaimer. I meet a lot of people in the Ds community, people with Ds, but also their family and friends. I can very explicitly say that parents of children with Ds and siblings/relatives of Ds have very different perspectives. When I meet another mother of a child with Ds, there is a sense of love, community, and support that I do not experience in nearly the same way when I meet a sibling/relative of someone with Down syndrome.

Okay, so. I hear a mind-blowingly number of times that Abigail is going to be happy, innocent, and naive her entire life. I hear about how Abigail is going to have an innate ability to socialize and love others - miraculously seeing past their physical appearance to their broken hearts and heal them with her unconditional love. "These kids just know," I hear from the well-intentioned middle aged woman at the grocery store whose sister with Ds passed away in grade school.

It is a well-established fact that every aspect of who we are comes from either our genes (nature) or our environment (nurture). (New research is indicating a combination of the two - epigenetics.) These people I meet on the street are clearly in Camp Nature - with complete disregard to their families and lifestyles, all children with Ds are destined to have the demeanor of a golden retriever. Therefore, it must be genetic. The only thing that separates Abigail genetically from me is one extra chromosome. One extra 21st chromosome. So we can safely conclude based on this logic that happy, loving emotions are located on the 21st chromosome and have three copies some how overpowers most all negative emotions, the ability to judge people, and that feeling in your gut that holds you back from hugging complete strangers.

Okay, somehow in someway, having Ds makes a person an ideal Saint on Earth. Lets call it Super Love, and it encompasses all the stereotypical traits society assigns to people like my daughter. Nature! These people are shouting at me. Maybe. But maybe its a nurture thing too. Just stick with me here for a minute. Let me play devil's advocate.

You know how people who are blind have superior hearing? Do you think whatever causes blindness also causes Super Hearing? Or what about the stereotypical patient dying of cancer - calm, at peace with their future, spending more time comforting family and friends than worrying themselves. Do you think while the cancer is in their body mutating away the genes, it somehow morphs a few into Super At Peace cells? Or what about the man who lost his legs in a terrible accident, but comes back to run marathons. Do you think maybe whatever holds you back in life is ironically stored in your legs and when you replace them with prosthetics, you get Super Mental Strength?

Of. Course. Not. To suggest such things is degrading to the strength and courage it takes to overcome, or come to terms with, overwhelming odds. It takes away from the achievements of the man who learned to navigate the world with a white cane, or stayed positive under several rounds of debilitating drugs, or run 26 miles strapped to plastic legs.

Yes, it's possible that God gave Abigail Super Love and she's a special gift to special parents. It's also possible that God made people the most learn-able, adaptable creatures on earth. We know that Down syndrome affects the brain, so I'll compromise that it's possible she's preconditioned to acceptance and optimism. But maybe her environment caused the rest. Maybe Abigail will have amazing social language skills because for the first few years of her life, she couldn't walk and was stuck to her mama's hip at the adult table at dinner instead of running around outside with her cousins. Maybe she'll be more naive because she won't have the same move-away-to-college, weekend-road-trip-with-friends, date-an-asshole experiences that you and I have. Maybe she'll be extra loving because she spent a lot of time sick at the hospital hanging out with other, sicker people - constantly exposed to end-of-life issues.

Maybe, just maybe there is some truth to what I'm saying. Maybe Abigail will grow up and I'll be back on here when I'm in my 50s - "No, I was wrong, Down's kids* just know!"

Maybe. But based on my life experiences to date, I still have the suppress the urge to either sucker punch or run away screaming from the next stereotyper who meanders my way.

*Saying "Down's kids" is also very degrading and I'm using it sarcastically here to prove a point.


Matt said...

And I thought, "Wow, favorite post? I'd better read this." And now I'm like, "Damn, that was a sweet post."

Hit it out of the park.

Kate Sherwood said...

I am sorry if I helped bring on this vent. It is not what I meant. At 2 years old, I happen to think almost all kids are innocent and loving--even if they are rambunctious and rowdy. (I teach a class of 3 year olds on Sundays--I come home exhausted.)

And if I did not help bring on this vent--all the better. Your post just reminded me of some of the same wording I used in a comment recently.

Finally, I am glad you wrote this post, regardless. I am not the parent or the sibling or the relative of a child with Down Syndrome. So, it is always good to have a perspective like yours. The last thing I want to be is thoughtless, insensitive, and stereotyping.

Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living

Jacqueline said...


I did not take any offense to your comment and certainly are not the target of this vent! When I read your comment, I took "beautiful, innocent, loving" child to mean exactly what you say here - all young kids are beautiful, innocent, and loving! We have a few habitual stereotypers in our lives who always grate on my nerves, but to be honest, this article (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jul/9/hundreds-call-to-adopt-down-syndrome-baby-save-it-/) is what set me off. Everyone rushing to adopt the "Downs Baby" and "Save it" as though it were a designer handbag. The irony between wanting to adopt the child to give it a love home vs the degrading way they are talking/going about the adoption. Ugh - I feel another blog post coming on in the comment box : )

Anyway, thank you very much for your comment and I'm glad I had a chance to clear things up - I tend to think everyone takes my writing exactly as I intend it and don't always realize that sometimes things weren't worded properly to convey my opinion.