Down Syndrome in Children’s Literature

Books can be a valuable tool for introducing children to human difference. They can also provide them with the opportunity to read about characters who have similar challenges and/or face similar experiences. Adults who select literature for children that provides information about exceptionalities should carefully examine the texts and understand the benefits and disadvantages of each book. Finding the perfect book, one that provides accurate information in a way that is understanding and accepting of diversity, and avoids all negative connotations, is difficult at best.

The following guide was designed to help parents and teachers examine books that present characters who have Down syndrome to young readers. It is divided into eight sections that address the main issues in such texts:

• Reading / developmental level
• Literary standards
• Accuracy of information
• Illustrations / photographs
• Language
• Stereotypes
• Acceptance and understanding
• Inclusion

Each section provides you with details to consider in order to make an overall decision about whether the book meets your own personal standards of acceptability.

Books that contain flaws, such as inappropriate or stereotypical language, may be used to facilitate critical discussions with young readers. Therefore, it is not the intent of this guide to suggest that any book should be ignored or rejected. However, careful consideration should be given to the use and intended audience of any book that could perpetuate discriminatory views.

Instructions:

1. Review the main questions to familiarize yourself with the intent of the guide. (These questions should be completed after you have finished the detailed sections.)

2. Carefully read the book to be reviewed. Record the name of the book.

3. Section 1: Reading level – Four levels of readers are provided, along with detailed descriptions for each. Consider the intended reader, and determine whether the information, story, and illustrations are appropriate for that child’s age or developmental level.

4. Section 2: Literary Standards – this section contains nine sub-questions designed to consider specific elements of ‘good’ writing. Consider each question separately and record your responses. Again, an overall impression is requested at the end of the section. Review your responses to the detailed questions in order to respond to the final statement.

5. Continue with sections 3 – 8, in a similar manner, responding first to the detailed information and then forming an overall impression for the final statement.

From The National Down Syndrome Society:

USE THIS LANGUAGE WHEN REFERRING TO DOWN SYNDROME AND PEOPLE WHO HAVE DOWN SYNDROME:

People with Down syndrome should always be referred to as people first. Instead of "a Down syndrome child," it should be "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.

Down vs. Down's - 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.

While it is still clinically acceptable to say "mental retardation," you should use the more socially acceptable "intellectual disability" or "cognitive disability." NDSS strongly condemns the use of the word "retarded" in any derogatory context. Using this word is hurtful and suggests that people with disabilities are not competent.

- See more at: http://www.ndss.org/Down-Syndrome/Preferred-Language-Guide/#sthash.nj8DM1C6.dpuf


Main Evaluation Statements

1. The book is developmentally appropriate for the intended audience.
2. The book is well written (Overall impression of the writing)
3. The information presented is current and accurate.
4. The illustrations or photographs used are positive and add to the quality of the book.
5. The book avoids loaded words and is respectful.
6. The book avoids stereotypes of Down syndrome.
7. The book promotes the acceptance and understanding of people who have Down syndrome.
8. The book provides a positive example of the inclusion of people who have Down syndrome in society.

    Review Information

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    Section 1: Reading level

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    Section 2: Literary Standards

    Is the book well written?
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    Section 3: Accuracy of Information

    Does the book present honest and accurate information about Down syndrome?
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    Section 4: Illustrations

    Do the illustrations or photographs used add to the quality of the book?
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    Section 5: Language

    Is the language used throughout the book respectful? Language used to describe the character who has Down syndrome should be: • People-first – (person who has Down syndrome, not Down’s girl, or Down syndrome boy) • Respectful , not condescending
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    Section 6: Stereotypes

    Does the book perpetuate the stereotypes typically associated with Down syndrome? Check any that you found in the book.
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    Section 7: Acceptance and Understanding

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    Section 8: Inclusion

    Does the book portray an inclusive environment?
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    Recommendation

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    Follow up questions:

    These questions are designed to help us make the evaluation tool better. Your help would be greatly appreciated, but is not required as part of the evaluation process.
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