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See Me: Proper etiquette when talking to someone with Down syndrome

Posted at 12:47 PM, Mar 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-21 13:47:09-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW — During the month of March, we are recognizing members of our WNY community who have Down syndrome, trying to look past limitations and see abilities.

"It's really just like talking to anyone else," said Catherine Cook-Cottone, whose brother has Down syndrome.

Cook-Cottone notices people often speak to her instead of Stephen, her adult brother.

"Kind of just ignoring or talking to the adult and not including, not from a point of not wanting to include someone, just not knowing what to do," said Cook-Cottone.

So what do you do?

The Do's of speaking to someone with Down syndrome
Talk about normal, everyday things

"What are you up to? What are you interested in? Whatever it is," said Cook-Cottone.

Stephen tells us he really enjoys speaking to his favorite people, going out to stores and eating treats at Dairy Queen, as so many of us do.

Have patience

Just waiting for them after you ask a question or engage in conversation.

"Sometimes, as people with Down syndrome get older, their processing speed goes down. So they may have a lot to say, it just takes longer," said Cook-Cottone.

Use reflective listening

Really listen to what they're saying and then repeat parts of their statements back to them, so they know you're really hearing them.

"It's a better way to talk to each other anyway," said Cook-Cottone.

The Dont's of speaking to someone with Down syndrome
Don't ignore them

"I think it's a big thing a lot of parents struggle with. This is a person who understands and want's to converse with you," said Emily Mondshein, Executive Director at Gigi's Playhouse.

Don't use "baby talk"

"Down syndrome is a very visible diagnosis right, we can see it and we can hear it and because of that we make judgments," said Mondshein.

Don't interrupt them

When Cook-Cottone speaks to her brother and waits for him to respond, she will ask him if she can interject and say something to help him make his point, rather than stepping on his toes or speaking for him.