Below are tips for the proper use of language for ‘Down syndrome’. The National Down Syndrome Society and the National Down Syndrome Congress encourages the language below:
- Down vs. Down’s. NDSS and NDSC use the preferred spelling, Down syndrome, rather than Down’s syndrome. While Down syndrome is listed in many dictionaries with both popular spellings (with or without an apostrophe s), the preferred usage in the United States is Down syndrome. This is because an “apostrophe s” connotes ownership or possession. Down syndrome is named for the English physician John Langdon Down, who characterized the condition, but did not have it.
- People with Down syndrome should always be referred to as people first. Instead of “a Down syndrome child,” it should be “a child with Down syndrome.” Also avoid “Down’s child” and describing the condition as “Down’s,” as in, “He has Down’s.” This seems like a minor distinction, but to me it is like the difference between someone telling you “you look pretty in that dress” vs. “that dress looks pretty on you.” One compliments the dress, the other is a compliment to you.
- Down syndrome is a condition or a syndrome, not a disease.
- People “have” Down syndrome, they do not “suffer from” it and are not “afflicted by” it.
- Our kids are "normal" (whatever that is, lol,) they just have Down syndrome. So we prefer not refering to kids without DS as normal (we haven't seen any that are yet, lol). We don't like that word much because it implies our children are abnormal.
- It is clinically acceptable to say “mental retardation,” but you may want to use the more socially acceptable “cognitive disability,” "developmental delay" or “cognitive impairment.”