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Proper Language

NDSS uses 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. The AP Stylebook recommends using "Down syndrome" as well.

People with Down syndrome should always be referred to as people first. Instead of "a Down syndrome child," it should be a "a child with Down syndrome." Also avoid "Down’s child" and describing the condition as "Down’s," as in, "He has Down’s." 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.

It is clinically acceptable to say "mental retardation," but you should use the more socially acceptable "intellectual disability".

From the National Down syndrome Society Website. Reprinted with Permission from DownRight Active Newsletter

This article first appeared in issue 14 of DSAU

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Feedback and comments on this article

Chaim said...

For the purposes of a fair picture, it should be pointed out that the comment at the end of the first paragraph (the apostrophe noting possession) in this article is no basis for the claim that Down syndrome should not have an apostrophe s.

Alzheimer's disease was named after Dr Alois Alzheimer, who didn't have it. The "apostrophe as possession" is to show that she identified it. It is a mark of honour, not an implication that she had it.

The same goes for Asperger (or Asperger's) syndrome, which was named after Hans Asperger, who didn't have the syndrome.

Many other examples can be found, both in the medical word and beyond. A large number of animals are named after their discoverer or identifier, and use an apostrophe, even though the person who discovered or identified the creature wasn't a horse, or a monkey or whatever!

Whether you wish to use Down syndrome or Down's syndrome is a matter of personal choice. Anyone claiming that their way of referring to it is the correct one is showing intolerance.

This is not a criticism of your otherwise excellent magazine and web site. I just don't like people telling me that their way of doing something is the correct way when it is merely one choice from a selection of equally valid choices.

Had you dropped the first bit, and concentrated on the second issue, which is a matter of societal importance, then this would have been an excellent article. Sadly, the truly important issue was put second to something irrelevant.

Thank you again for your hard work, it is truly appreciated.

20 June 2010 17:52

Sarah Sander - Editor said...

This is in response to the first comment: First, thank you so much for your time and feedback.
There is no right and wrong regarding the spelling of this syndrome. In general, I have found that certain words are spelled differently in the United States than they are in England, i.e. color vs colour. That same tolerance can be applied to Down vs. Down's. It seems that the US organizations representing the DS population are now advocating for 'Down' syndrome. As a US citizen, I am going along with it...
Please clarify what you meant by "Had you dropped the first bit, and concentrated on the second issue, which is a matter of societal importance, then this would have been an excellent article"
Thanks again and all the best, Sarah Sander

20 June 2010 20:05

Chaim said...

Hello Sarah,

What I meant by the second part was that the way we refer to our children can often create a defining image in someone's mind. As the article pointed out, referring to someone as "a Down syndrome child" effectively defines that child in terms of the DS, instead of defining them as a valid, valuable human being who happens to have DS.

This is a very important issue, and one that should be given more prominence. I was just bothered that this article seemed to spend more time on an irrelevancy dressed up as fact, and relegate the genuinely important point to a follow-on.

Although attitudes have changed a lot in the last decade, there is still a lot of ignorance and misunderstanding over issues like DS, and discussions like the second one in this article are very valuable in bringing these issues to the front.

I hope this clarifies it. Thanks again for a great magazine!

20 June 2010 20:59