DSSRI Language Guidelines

This statement by the Down Syndrome Society of Rhode Island clarifies the meaning of and emphasizes the importance of language when referring to individuals with Down syndrome. The words that people use can help all individuals to lead more complete and enriching lives. Words can also create barriers and reinforce stereotypes. The primary goal of this statement is to ensure that correct language is used when talking, or writing, about individuals with Down syndrome.

  • The correct name of this diagnosis is Down syndrome. There is no apostrophe (Down). The “s” in syndrome is not capitalized (syndrome).
  • An individual with Down syndrome is an individual first, and foremost. The emphasis should be on the person, not the disability. Down syndrome is just one of many words that can be used to describe a person. A child with Down syndrome, an adult with Down syndrome, or a person with Down syndrome is a more appropriate way to discuss a person with this condition.
  • Words can create barriers; try to recognize that a child is “a child with Down syndrome” or that an adult “is an adult with Down syndrome.” Children with Down syndrome grow into adults with Down syndrome; they do not remain “eternal children.”
  • Ask yourself if using the words, “poor,” “pitiful,” or “unfortunate” when referring to an individual with Down syndrome is in her/his best interest.
  • Each person has her/his own unique strengths, capabilities, and talents. Try not to use the cliches that are so common when describing an individual with Down syndrome. To assume all people have the same characteristics or abilities is degrading. Also, it reinforces the stereotype that “all kids with Down syndrome are the same.”
  • Most important, look at the person as an individual, your child, your family member, your student, your friend. Proudly acknowledge their individuality and their accomplishments.