If you have a loved one with Down syndrome, chances are you have heard the phrase, “More alike than different.”
I first heard this slogan when my daughter with Down syndrome was young — I wanted to shout it out, loud and clear. When I started giving school presentations, I used the phrase, over and over, hoping that was the most important thing children remembered from my message. After all, these were the kids my daughter went to school with, and I wanted them to see her as a friend — more like them, than different.
Now that we are in the magical years of middle school (my daughter is in seventh grade) that slogan seems pretty… unhelpful to her.
I can tell her classmates that she is more alike than different until I run out of breath, but when it comes down to it, my daughter is different. Her classmates are aware of it, and my daughter is aware of it, too. This slogan doesn’t do much for either my daughter or her classmates.
So after a few years of listening and learning from the actual disability community (not the parenting community) this is how I feel:
1. “More alike than different” brushes off differences as not-important.
Differences matter, especially when someone needs accommodations.
2. “More alike than different” makes lack of inclusive spaces OK.
If someone is more alike than different, no effort is necessary to create inclusive spaces. Inclusive spaces are created with differences in mind, so that everyone belongs. “More alike than different” expects everyone to fit into the “typical mold.”
3. “More alike than different” can be ableist.
It is. It communicates that those with Down syndrome are to be considered as whole people because they are “almost typical.”
We do a disservice to our loved ones with Down syndrome when we don’t offer room to be different, and communicate that the differences are not only OK, but beautiful.
If others, in ignorance, fail to see people with disabilities as fully human because they are different, that is on them. My child is not responsible to educate and change their perceptions.
I believe the problem is that as a society we look at differences as if it was something “bad.” We fail to see that different is what contributes to the beauty of diversity in all its forms — and disability is part of the diversity conversation.
I want my daughter’s friends to recognize her differences and therefore make accommodations for her. I want them to take the time to pause and truly listen to what my daughter has to say.
I want them to be aware that, when they include her, it does mean she could need supports, reminders, and patience.
My daughter shouldn’t have to be considered or included because she is “more alike,” or in other words, more “typical.” As if “typical” was the bar and she has to reach it in order to belong. The message shouldn’t be, “Please treat someone with an intellectual disability with kindness because they are almost like you.” The message should be, “Please treat someone with a disability with kindness because they are fully human.”
I guess we are all more alike than different if we are talking about our need for love and acceptance — we all have emotions, and feelings.
I feel I spent so much energy trying to get people to see my child as “more alike” that I failed to prepare the minds and hearts of the students I spoke to for how they can become more inclusive and accepting of those who are different.
My daughter is not “more alike than different” and that’s OK.
I believe she was fearfully and wonderfully made to be who she is, differences and all. And I want to celebrate those differences, respect those differences, honor those differences.
And for the kids with Down syndrome who are also on the autism spectrum, for the kids who are nonverbal, for the kids who require assistance for personal care needs, for all those who are different… you are loved and wanted and worthy. You don’t need to be “more alike than different” to be considered as fully human, or respected, or accommodated, or included. You belong.
I want my daughter to know, feel, and believe that who she is — including her disability — is what makes her be the wonderful person she is. And she will be celebrated, respected, and honored as a full human being, differences and all.
Let’s connect on Facebook