Netflix exposes viewers to Down syndrome but isn’t ‘reality…

Lynn Schmidt

Lynn Schmidt

Here’s a reminder that reality television shows are not really reality. I was scrolling through Netflix and saw a series “Down for Love” was trending. As the mother of an adult daughter with Down syndrome, I immediately cringed and hoped the conclusions I jumped to might be wrong. Unfortunately, I was right from the start.

Down syndrome is a genetic condition caused when abnormal cell division results in extra genetic material. Typically, a baby is born with 46 chromosomes. Babies with Down syndrome have an extra copy of one of chromosome 21. A medical term for having an extra copy of a chromosome is ‘trisomy.’ For this reason people with Down syndrome are also referred to as Trisomy 21.

This extra copy changes how the baby’s body and brain develop, which can cause both mental and physical challenges for the baby. This chromosomal abnormality leads to intellectual disabilities as well as other medical conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control website: “Even though people with Down syndrome might act and look similar, each person has different abilities. People with Down syndrome usually have an IQ (a measure of intelligence) in the mildly-to-moderately low range and are slower to speak than other children.”

People are also reading…

These challenges can make having an adult relationship difficult.

Netflix’s official synopsis describes the series as: “Down for Love is a heartwarming quest for love that follows several people with Down syndrome as they navigate the trials and triumphs of dating. The feel-good reality show aims to showcase the joys and challenges of finding love while breaking down stereotypes and promoting inclusivity.”

“Down for Love” is a “reality” show in which six individuals with Down syndrome go on blind dates with other people with Down syndrome. The series is filmed in New Zealand and produced in consultation with the New Zealand Down Syndrome Association.

The reviews of the show have been mixed and most of the criticisms have come from the title, noting the pun in the title as demeaning. Most have praised Netflix for being inclusive and exposing viewers to this community who might otherwise not be represented.

I watched the entirety of season one. Only one minute in and I found myself getting angry.

The narrator asked one couple “Do you two want to have children?” Do the producers of the show understand that males with Down syndrome are generally infertile? Females with Down syndrome have a 50% chance of having a child with Down syndrome. Is she capable of raising a child like herself? What a slurry of mixed messages given to the Down syndrome community about their possibilities.

Other viewers’ critiques highlight the overbearing parental involvement and the impression of the infantilization of disabled adults. One of the show’s participants, Heidi, said “[It] reinforces the idea we can’t date. We can, we’re still people, we’re still humans. Some disabled people might need a bit more support, for example learning about love and relationships and intimacy. But we can still do all those things.”

Heidi’s feelings are valid here because she is an adult, but she cannot possibly understand the level of support needed and offered by parents or caregivers. I certainly do not want my daughter to feel guilty or in any way diminished. But the truth is, she requires structure from us, her parents, to maintain a relationship. As parents, we too entered a relationship with our daughter’s boyfriend and his parents. We attend each and every date to support the couple. Since we parents spend a lot of time together, we too need to like each other.

Shows like “Down for Love” and its predecessor “Love on the Spectrum,” the docuseries which follows young adults on the autism spectrum in the dating world, feels voyeuristic and a bit exploitive by using disabled individuals to entertain those without disabilities.

That said, I do not begrudge anyone who watches the series and comes away with that feel-good sense. But viewers should understand that these dates and relationships are not realistic.

The desire for love, connection and meaning is universal, and my biggest hope and dream for my daughter is that she will always be surrounded by people who love her. My husband and I will support her any way we can for her to achieve that.

While this may be reality television, it certainly is not the reality of most adults with Down syndrome. That is why I give a thumbs down for “Down for Love.”

Schmidt is a St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist and Editorial Board member: lynnschmidtrn@outlook.com.

Source link

Comments are closed.