photo of Penny, who has Down syndrome, wrapping her arms around Amy Julia

Down Syndrome Is Not Like a Car Crash

I hear the comparison all the time. When people want to explain that the unexpected can happen to any of us, and to any of our children, at any time, they often say things like, “You don’t know if your kid is going to get into a car crash.” 

I understand the analogy. Just as Down syndrome is an unexpected and unpredictable diagnosis, so too a car crash cannot be foreseen. Just as a car crash may cause feelings of grief and fear, and may require doctors’ visits, so too a Down syndrome diagnosis often feels overwhelming and scary. And just as no parent would reject a child who has endured a car crash, so too parents can receive their children with Down syndrome with an open heart. 

Still, I want to insist that having Down syndrome is not like getting in a car crash. We reduce Down syndrome to tragedy when we compare this chromosomal condition to wreckage. 

There’s nothing positive about car crashes (which is not to say nothing good could ever come of them). There is beauty and purpose in the lives of people with Down syndrome as they are, not in spite of their genetic makeup. Down syndrome is embedded in every cell of a baby’s body from the moment of conception. Down syndrome is, by definition, a part of the design. 

I’m not trying to compare having Down syndrome to inheriting a million dollars or walking through a bed of roses. Having Down syndrome is a mixed bag. It comes with pronounced limitations alongside the potential for beauty and wonder and delight. As does being human.

We do not know what catastrophes or wonders any of our lives will hold. All of life is vulnerable and uncertain, with the potential for great heartache and the possibility of overwhelming joy. 

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