Down Syndrome Awareness Month: My Experiences Working with People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

October is filled with many amazing things: apple cider, pumpkin patches, spooky movies, and more. But one thing you may not know is that it is also Down Syndrome Awareness Month! Down Syndrome is an intellectual and developmental disability caused by having an extra copy of the 21st chromosome. Intellectual Disabilities can be categorized as having impaired intellectual adaptive functioning, speech delays, and a lower IQ. Developmental Disabilities can be categorized as chronic impairments to physical or mental components of one’s self that affect day to day life. Both ID and DD can exist independently from one another, but can also come hand in hand. 

In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, I wanted to give a little insight into my own experiences with people who have Down Syndrome and other disabilities. The summer going into my freshman year of college, I got the opportunity to work at a day program for adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Going into this job, I had no prior experience and was honestly pretty nervous about what was to come. But as soon as I had my first day, the warm and inviting community that welcomed me assured me that I was going to be just fine.

The main focus of my program is to find job opportunities for participants and teach them how to behave in a ‘professional’ manner, as well as reinforcing other life skills. We do this by teaching lessons on hygiene, respect, money skills, and other important things to know. In addition to these more formal lessons, we also have lots of fun by watching movies, taking trips to stores, having ‘fun Friday’ take out lunches, playing games, and going to the local YMCA!

In the short summer and breaks from school that I worked in this program, I learned more than I ever believed I could about patience, tolerance, communication, and most importantly: respect. Between all the laughing, lessons, and trips to the Franklin Park Zoo, I formed individual relationships with my clients and learned not only how to work with those who are different from me, but also a lot of things about myself. In fact, I came quite close to switching my major from Early Childhood Education to Special Education – this is still a decision that I sway between quite often.  

Giraffe Alaura Dannon

When I entered UMass, I was pretty bummed that I had to leave my incredible summer job and wanted to find ways to stay involved with the IDD community. I was super excited when I found out that UMass has a Best Buddies program! I quickly joined, found a buddy, and another amazing community out in Amherst, and now as a sophomore, I am a member of the E-board! We hold so many fun events like pumpkin picking, karaoke, cookie decorating, and more. For the time being, we are doing Zoom events like game night and arts and crafts night. If you want to learn more about how to get involved, follow our Instagram account, @umassamherstbestbuddies

Microphone on stage Bruno Cervera

Coming from someone who had no experience with people with special needs up until about a year and a half ago, it can be overwhelming to enter into a community that you are unfamiliar with. Nonetheless, it is still extremely important to become educated on how marginalized communities, like people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, are treated, and how you can help advocate for those who are unable to advocate for themselves. A great way to start is to take the pledge to spread the word to end the word. By taking this pledge, you are actively changing your vocabulary and promoting inclusion for all by choosing to remove the R-word from your own and other peoples' everyday language. 

The R-word is outdated and hurtful; Down Syndrome Awareness month is a great time to learn more about how all words have consequences, even if they are unintentional. If you have any questions about UMass Best Buddies or Spread the Word to End the Word, please feel free to reach out! There is never a bad time to educate yourself and promote a more inclusive world. And finally, happy Down Syndrome Awareness month!