It’s Cool to be Different

Have you ever wondered what being cool means? If you have a teenager in the house and you are a parent, at least you probably know what ‘not cool’ is! In the absence of a dictionary – my definition is that being cool is when you do, have or are something that other people think is cool at that point in time.

So sometimes being different is cool, if it’s something that others aspire to do, have or be. Otherwise, if everyone is doing, having or being it … well, I guess there are lots of people being ‘different’, so there are lots of cool people. Until one minion declares that something else is important and then the cool-o-meter resets to zero.

In fashion, like art, you often see people who are different standing out. When there is something different or unusual about a person, it seems they have the edge. The society of the day deems what that thing is, but it’s the nature of fashion (and art) that there will always be those looking for the next trend, challenging the status quo and discarding the norms of the day. We love traditions but we have come to expect change. We embrace the new breakthrough trend and wonder why it took so long to be realised.

What’s the point? Well, a thought I have been having is about Down syndrome and the whole same/different discussion. You may know the hashtag #MoreAlikeThanDifferent – Do you push an agenda that your child is the same as everyone else, or do you shout out about the differences. Obviously, there’s a time an place for both, but I sometimes wonder.

At the start of the journey, when the world seems to be turned on its head with a Down syndrome diagnosis … Different … the advice is to just treat your beautiful baby as you would any other … Same. We expect other people to view our child as a child first … Same … with Down syndrome second … Different. For Inclusive Education, we expect our child to have access to regular schooling. Same. We expect the curriculum to be modified and appropriate adjustments to be made. Different. Workplaces create dubious reasoning to justify why they could not give someone employment, thinking they have to treat everyone the same to be fair. Same. We call that out knowing that there are many other benefits to employing someone with Down syndrome, including some different to the usual criteria. Different.

Standing out from the crowd can be a good thing. In business, having a point of difference can make your business a success. So if supporters value the difference and provide their custom, a person with Down syndrome can be successful. The more people who value that difference, who see it as a positive thing, even see the ‘overcoming the challenge’ as something cool, the more successful a person living with Down syndrome can become. People with Down syndrome and their families do have to work harder for the same things. Considering the state of the story book on Down syndrome we have inherited, certain countries are very lucky that the tide is turning. That’s in contrast to countries like Iceland and developing countries like China and many other countries around the world where the governments (and therefore many people) just don’t value people with Down syndrome the same way.

So the starting point is to change the story we are telling about what it means to have Down syndrome. We need to promote the similarities and yet sell the differences in a positive way. We can take advantage of uniqueness and transform it into something cool. We need to use social media, a very powerful game-changer putting power in the hands of the people, to change the inherited stories into our new uplifting ones. The fashion around Down syndrome is changing and rather than hiding behind closed doors, people around the world are proudly showing off their successes. The energy is shared and with all the newcomers you can feel the momentum is building.

It’s a different way of looking at it.

Now I think that’s cool.

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