A MAJORITY of parents to children with Down's Syndrome in Scotland continue to encounter offensive language and stereotypes about the condition, even from health professionals, new research reveals.

Some parents said negative and outdated attitudes during pre-natal testing made them feel under pressure to terminate their pregnancy, and 60 per cent said members of the public, friends or relatives had used terms such as "retarded", "Mongol", or "slow" to describe children with Down's Syndrome.

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Four in 10 parents said even nurses, midwives, doctor and social workers had used negative language to them about the condition, including referring to it as a "problem" instead of a diagnosis or talking about a mother's "risk" rather than chance of having a baby with Down's Syndrome.

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The findings of a survey carried out by charity Down's Syndrome Scotland are published to coincide with Down's Syndrome awareness week, which runs until March 24, and a new campaign, 'Mind Your Language', focusing on the impact of using misguided or pejorative terms.

Parents complained that too often people with refer to an infant with Down's Syndrome as a "Down's baby", meaning they are defined by the disability first.

They said it was still common, especially among people from an older generation, to use outdated and offensive terms such as ‘mong’, ‘mongol’ or ‘retard’ when discussing a person with Down's Syndrome.

Parents said they had also been left feeling upset or offended when people say 'sorry' or express sympathy on seeing that their child has the condition.

Describing children with Down's Syndrome as "suffering from" or being "victims of" the condition was also offensive, they said, as were stereotypes that people with Down's Syndrome are "always happy" or that associated learning difficulties would mean that normal life achievements were out of reach.

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Jo Hughes, the family support service manager for Down's Syndrome Scotland, said she was not surprised by the findings.

She said: "I was not surprised in the slightest. I manage the family support service within Down's Syndrome Scotland so I manage a team of workers who are regularly within the environment of health and education professionals, and general staff providing services to people with Down's Syndrome, and we are very mindful of the inappropriate use of language around people with Down's Syndrome.

"What we do recognise a lot of the time is the inappropriate use of language that is down to lack of knowledge and lack of awareness.

"Historically terms used to describe people with Down's Syndrome were more acceptable than they are today.

"We know that 'Mongol' is still used as a slang for Down's Syndrome, but it is very disrespectful and very hurtful.

"Predominantly, it's about referring to people as their disability and not referring to them as a person."

There are an estimated 3000 people in Scotland living with Down's Syndrome, a genetic disorder caused by the presence of a third copy of chromosome 21 when there should only a pair.

It results in mild to moderate learning difficulties, and a substantially higher lifetime risk - around 50-70% - of developing dementia.

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However, Down's Syndrome Scotland is also keen to explode common myths about the condition. For example, while older mother's do have a higher chance of conceiving a baby with Down's Syndrome, 80% of children with the disorder are born to mothers aged under 35.

The charity also stresses that contrary to stereotypes that people with Down's Syndrome will not have a long life or good prospects, many actually live into their 70s and are able to attend mainstream school, live independently as adults and hold down a job with support.

Ms Hughes added that too many people with Down's Syndrome still face exclusion.

"There is still a problem with exclusion, but some of that is down to a lack of awareness and understanding about the disability.

"Compared to 10 years ago the inclusion and the awareness of Down's Syndrome has come on incredibly, but there is still a huge amount of work to be done.

"People with Down's Syndrome are the lowest population of people who are offered employment, and we know a lot of that is because employers don't have good enough knowledge of the disability."

Kerry Lindsay, Communications Manager of Down’s Syndrome Scotland said: “While we knew that people with Down’s syndrome were frequently referred to as ‘Down’s’ rather than a person with Down’s syndrome, we were surprised that the results of the survey revealed the word ‘Mongol’ was still used so frequently in society today.

"We are hoping through our campaign that people from all generations of society will think twice before using these words in the future.”