John Langdon Down is sometimes referred to as the “Father of Down Syndrome.” This is simply because he was the first doctor (a British man) credited with making a connection between a series of physical characteristics and what we now refer to as Down Syndrome or Trisomy 21. Unfortunately, in his day, the term “idiot” was used to describe those who had any type of cognitive delay so his original label was much less desirable as he called the individuals he was classifying by the term “Mongolian Idiot” referring to the almost Asian look of the almond-shaped eyes.
John Langdon Down worked in an institution and often mentioned positive attributes of his patients that he was classifying noting the following in a paper he authored:
“They have considerable power of imitation, even bordering on being mimics. They are humorous and a lively sense of the ridiculous often colours their mimicry. This faculty of imitation can be cultivated to a very great extent and a practical direction given to the results obtained. They are usually able to speak; the speech is thick and indistinct, but may be improved very greatly by a well directed scheme of tongue gymnastics. The co-ordinating faculty is abnormal, but not so defective that it cannot be strengthened. By systemic training, considerable manipulative power may be obtained.” Down, J. Langdon (1887). Mental Afflictions of Childhood and Youth. J& A Churchill, London.
Before we ridicule him for his choice of words we should know that his choice of labels only reflected the common language of his time. John Langdon Down was said to be gentle, kind, and forward thinking in his treatment of those in his institutions who had the genetic effects of Trisomy 21.