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People First Language



This information can be a helpful resource for media, writers, and for general use… 

The words we use have the power to help or hurt. It’s important that people who support individuals with Down syndrome use People First Language at all times. People with Down syndrome have the same rights as everyone else and should be treated with respect. Remember to use People First Language in all your interactions to convey respect and to model by example.


The correct spelling is Down syndrome. There is no apostrophe ‘s’ following Down. Dr. John Langdon Down provided the first formal description of the syndrome and therefore no possessive is used. Also, the ‘s’ in syndrome in not capitalized.

A Developmental Disability

Down syndrome is a chromosomal disorder that is present at conception. Using the term ‘birth defect’ or ‘disease’ in relation to Down syndrome is incorrect. There is no known cure for Down syndrome so these terms are inaccurate.

People with Down syndrome usually experience mild to moderate physical and intellectual delays. When referring to a person with Down syndrome, the terms mental retardation and mongoloid are considered outdated, offensive and should be avoided. The best reference is ‘developmentally delayed’ (for children) and ‘developmentally disabled’ (for adults).

People First Language

Individuals with Down syndrome are people first. The emphasis should be on the individual, not the disability. For example: a baby, child or adult with Down syndrome, not ‘Down syndrome child’ or ‘Downs’ baby’. If mentioning Down syndrome is not relevant to the conversation, why even bring it up at all?


Avoid generalizing people with Down syndrome as ‘always loving’, ‘always smiling’, or ‘perpetually happy’. People with Down syndrome are not all alike.

The diversity of abilities and characteristics among individuals with Down syndrome can be best described as the same for the general population.


Please avoid judgmental terminology. A person with Down syndrome does not “suffer from”, and is not “a victim of” or “afflicted with” Down syndrome. Down syndrome is not a disease and these references only diminish a person’s dignity.

Alternate suggestions for describing the syndrome include “living with Down syndrome” or has a medical condition known as Down syndrome.

Comparing to Others

Realize that parents of children with Down syndrome consider them to be ‘normal’ kids. Comparing them to ‘normal’ kids implies that a child with Down syndrome is something less than normal.