OPINION – I wish I had Down syndrome

Jess Waters from West Melton in Canterbury provides a very personal reflection on growing up with a sister with Down syndrome and the recent controversy around Shortland Street’s depiction of the disability.

When I was growing up, I always wished I had Down syndrome.

As a sister of a young adult with Down syndrome, it has been extremely frustrating to hear of Shortland Street’s ignorant and insensitive storyline around Down syndrome in the recent week.

Their portrayal of the disability could not have been more wrong.

My sister Rochelle and myself are very close in age and I have seen first-hand just how great her life is.

She brings joy everywhere she goes and people love her. She gets all the attention and is offered amazing opportunities, which is why I often wished that I had Down syndrome myself.

More importantly, my sister brings positivity to negative situations and doesn’t judge people.

Rochelle has got it good.

She works part time in a bakery, she is learning to become a dance teacher, she is part of a mixed ability dance group, she is the chairperson of the Special Olympics Athletes committee, where she also trains as a swimmer, and she is on the Canterbury Down Syndrome Association Committee.

She is very much like anyone else her age, has a boyfriend, loves spending time with her friends and watching movies, she can cook and clean, loves to have the odd beer and she enjoys travelling around New Zealand to catch up with the family.

Rochelle is very independent, catches the bus by herself, has flown on her own on occasions and likes to make her own decisions.

At 23, she’s achieved probably more in her life than any other 23-year-old I know.

I very often remark people with Down Syndrome are geniuses because they have people wrapped around their little finger.

Take school for example where Rochelle got away with murder. Teachers would see her disability and not expect much from her and she played right into that. I knew she was more than capable as I would see her doing these things at home and outside of school. But if she couldn’t be bothered doing something, she would happily and deliberately play the disability card. She and her friends know how to use their disability to their advantage.

One part that is often overlooked in the discussions about how valuable a life with Down syndrome is, is the impact they make on the people around them.

Having a sister with Down syndrome has made me a better person. Like many other siblings of people with Down syndrome, I’m accepting, empathetic and have the ability to see things from other people’s viewpoint.

I’ve spent my whole life being around people with Down syndrome and often think the world would be a better place if everyone had Down syndrome. I love being around these guys, there’s always laughter, fun and positivity.

Being Rochelle’s sibling has brought me many opportunities, from coaching swimming with Special Olympics, to camps where I’ve made lifelong friends.

As a committee member for Special Olympics Canterbury, it makes me proud to see Rochelle running the meetings and contributing to the discussions we have.

It’s great that she’s on the various committees to advocate for her peers.

It bothers me when people refer to Down syndrome as a curse.

How can a happy child who rarely argues backs like most kids, loves routine and brings laughter everywhere, possibly be a curse? The understanding of this disability is, so so wrong.

I am disappointed that so many people have such a wrong impression and ignorant story lines on shows like Shortland Street do not really help to educate the community about how great life with Down syndrome really can be.

I wonder why other storylines are portrayed with more sensitivity than this, but it just reinforces why I don’t watch this programme and never will.


Caption: Jess Waters with her sister Rochelle.