Ds Awareness Day #11: Why do all people with Down syndrome look alike? Actually, they do not all look a like.
There are typical physical characteristics of Down syndrome, such as up slanted almond shaped eyes, flat nasal bridge, white spots on the iris, short stature, and large gap between the big toe and other toes.
Individuals with Down syndrome may have many or few of the typical characteristics. As a result they do have similar aesthetics.“I’m confused now…..alike or not alike?”
So, this is science….brain science, not rocket science! Our human brain naturally looks for patterns and categorizes accordingly. As a result, even within society, we have categorized individuals with similar physical traits into groupings. This is not meant to be offensive in any manner, but will serve to explain. For people, with little exposure to an Asian community, they will see common characteristics among the people and categorize them simply as Asian. However, within the Asian community or even with people that are very familiar, they can easily identify individuals of Korean vs. Japanese vs. Chinese decent for example. The familiarity of these physical characteristics leads to refining of data, but still categorizing based on what we see and our brain processes.
With individuals with Down syndrome, the human brain sees the patterns and categorizes the individuals into a grouping based on this data. This is exactly what Dr. Langdon Down did when he noted the common characteristics and created a category in which to put them (see Ds Awareness Day#6). Since most people aren’t exposed to large numbers of individuals with disabilities for long enough to see their differences, the brain is simply seeing the common characteristics and grouping them.
In all actuality, individuals with Down syndrome inherit their looks from their families. While the extra 21st chromosome gives them aesthetic similarities with other individuals genetically enhanced the same way, their genetics still come from their parents.
As I mentioned before, we had a prenatal diagnosis with Peter. Being the chatty person that I am, I gave the full run down of all we knew about Peter to the on call OB/GYN handling my delivery, whom we had not met. Peter rushed into the world all big and chubby. She said, “If you hadn’t told me, I would not have guessed he had Down syndrome – he doesn’t look Downs.” To this day I don’t know exactly what the meaning was behind that comment.
I looked at him and I did see all the characteristics – almond shaped eyes with white spots in the iris, flat bridge on his nose, floppy ears, low muscle tone, short limbs, and a protruding tongue. Of course I saw all of that! But I also so the white hair that both John and I had as kids. I saw the clear blue eyes like my Aunt Lizzie, that now Gretchen has too. I saw the naughty twinkle in his eyes like Jack, but also the expression that said “Please snuggle me” that Tommy had. He had the same fuzzy head as Alexandra, and a calmness that Michael had as a baby. When I saw Peter I saw Down syndrome, but I also saw Krause and Mortimer in him.
Confession time! – I have about 50,000 photos on my computer. Most not in albums. Sad! Sometimes as I go through them, I have to check the outfit on the baby or the date of the photo to be sure I guessed right on who the photo was of. Yep, I thought all my babies were uniquely beautiful – never to be confused – but fact is that they all, Peter included, have many traits they share. I see that now.
So next time you see an individual with Down syndrome, pause and take a second look. I bet you will see they look far more like their family than that brain of your first processed.