Plastic Surgery and Down Syndrome

Plastic Surgery and Down Syndrome
In October of 2011, The Doctors TV Show invited actor Blair Williamson and advocate Gail Williamson to participate in a story discussing the option of facial plastic surgery for children with Down syndrome.

Twenty five years ago I learned about facial plastic surgery for very young children with Down syndrome. At that time, families could make appointments at a clinic in Texas only during the month of August to bring their babies starting at 18 months old to have work done on their faces; I recall one procedure included having their cheeks sliced open for some kind of implant, and they had to return every few years as they grew to have those replaced by bigger implants.

I don't recall much more than that because I was distracted by the thought of having to spend August in Texas and of course elective surgery on babies under the age of two shocked me even more. There may be other places now that promote surgery on babies and children with Down syndrome, and appointments available year round.

Some children, teens and adults with Down syndrome have medical conditions or complications associated with Down syndrome that can be eased or eliminated by facial or other plastic surgery. When my son was a baby, the main argument in favor of the surgery was that others would be more accepting of our children if the features associated with Down syndrome were changed a little, and they would be offered better opportunities. Some moms felt others could and should be more understanding of a child's challenges when those features were recognized.

Some families who choose plastic surgery for their children with Down syndrome have a lifestyle that includes facial reconstructive or other plastic surgery and medical interventions whether an individual has Down syndrome or not. Personal choice and family culture has a great influence on the quality of life and richness of experience all of our children enjoy.

As I recall, I spoke up at the meeting twenty five years ago to say that I would wait until my son could be a part of this kind of decision, and joked that more likely than not he would choose plastic surgery only to further his career as an Elvis impersonator. As it turns out, he is more interested in science fiction; the rich history of television wrestlers and their fabulous masks; and is quite certain he can look like any celebrity he chooses with only his talent as an actor and the right haircut.

As for the segment on plastic surgery for individuals with Down syndrome, I thought it was a bit unsettling in a couple of places. I watched it with my son and neither of us liked a couple of the comments, especially about the surgery making people 'look normal on the outside' who were 'not normal on the inside' - since he is of course normal inside and out. Handsome inside and out, too.

He grew up included in mainstream classrooms in our neighborhood schools and had opportunities to show us his true potential despite prejudice and discrimination. It was fortunate that his school had a great diversity in students, including young people of different cultures and languages whose differences were also accommodated to benefit their education. He grew up as an advocate for diversity rather than Down syndrome and still enjoys multicultural celebrations within the disability community and in the mainstream.

The plastic surgeon who participated in The Doctors TV segment reminded me of the very good advice not to ask a barber if you need a haircut. I am sure he could have found something to 'fix' on anyone's face. As a business man it is in his best interests to put forward the benefits of his skill. I am more proud of my son than his mother is of him.

Browse at your local bookstore, public library or online retailer for books like: Gifts: Mothers Reflect on How Children with Down Syndrome Enrich Their Lives, Gifts 2: How People with Down Syndrome Enrich the World and More Than a Mom: Living a Full and Balanced Life When Your Child Has Special Needs.

Cosmetic Surgery? No thanks!
Your Face
by Catherine Slater

All 4 My Gals
Plastic Surgery & Down syndrome

Cirugías estéticas en las personas con síndrome de Down
Cirugías estéticas en las personas con síndrome de Down

Should children with Down's syndrome have cosmetic surgery?

NDSS Position Papers - Cosmetic Surgery for Children with Down Syndrome

Down Syndrome South Africa: Cosmetic Surgery
DSSA’s viewpoint on facial plastic surgery

Plastic Surgery in Children with Down Syndrome
Facial Reconstruction, Tongue Reduction by Dr. Len Leshin

Bullied boy all smiles after operation to fix ears

An Opinion Survey on the Use of Plastic Surgery for Children With Down Syndrome (undated)
Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities, v38 n3 p323-33 Sep 2003
Goeke, Jennifer 2003

Australia: Down Syndrome plastic surgery 'child abuse'

Dr. Sears of The Doctors TV Show on growing up with his sometimes silly brother with Down syndrome, Stephen

Down Syndrome and Plastic Surgery: The Doctors
Part 1
There are specific facial features that characterize an individual with Down syndrome. Because of this, a growing number of parents are turning to plastic surgery to help their children affected with the condition appear “normal” on the outside, leaving many outraged.

Part 2
“If we learned anything on this show, it’s that children with Down syndrome should be celebrated for the unique characteristics they bring to life,” E.R. physician Dr. Travis Stork says. “We should not 'normalize' them.”

NDSS Down Syndrome Buddy Walk
2011 Times Square Video - New York City

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You Should Also Read:
Explaining Down Syndrome to Children
Is Diversity Like A New Box of Crayons?
Down Syndrome and the Acting Gene

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