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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Born This Way is a reality show starring seven young adults who are living full lives despite having Down syndrome, a genetic condition. It's milder than most unscripted shows, but there's still some arguing, occasional "iffy" language ("hell"), and discussions about dating and sex. Drinking (beer, champagne) is also visible. The Los Angeles-based Leaps 'n Boundz Community Center is highlighted as a meeting place for the cast. The show offers a rare realistic view into the day-to-day existence of people with special needs; it's also interesting to hear from the parents about their hopes and dreams for their kids. Like many reality shows, it's fun to watch, but it transcends the dramatics of its peers by giving its stars real voices as they find challenges as well as success in life.
What's the story?
Brought to you by the producers of the Real World franchise, BORN THIS WAY is a reality show featuring seven young adults with Down syndrome. The cast includes self-described ladies'-man Sean, the upbeat Steven, rap artist John, temperamental Elena, boy-crazy Rachel, and Cristina, who's in a committed long-term relationship with her boyfriend, Angel, all of whom are working and pursuing their passions. Also joining the group is Megan, who is relocating to Los Angeles for the summer to pursue her filmmaking dreams. Supporting them are their parents and the staff of Leaps n Boundz, an LA-based community center designed to assist young adults with special needs with whatever they want to do. From navigating relationship drama to finding their way to independence, they live their day-to-day lives while reminding people that they're capable of accomplishing anything.
Is it any good?
The honest and appealing reality series offers some insight into how some adults with Down syndrome negotiate their way through a world that treats them differently while having low expectations for them. Happily, it does so in a way that blends the trendiness of unscripted TV -- complete with a hip meeting space, confessionals, and lots of dramatic moments -- with earnest conversations about their hopes, needs, and desires, as well as the emotional struggles having the genetic condition causes them and their loved ones.
It succeeds at allowing the cast to present themselves as unique, highly functioning, and talented people in a very complicated world. But despite wanting to underscore that having Down syndrome does not define who they are, the fact that they have it, and the challenges they face because of it, is a consistent theme throughout. Nonetheless, it offers viewers the valuable opportunity to gain a better understanding of the cast's experiences and to rethink how we tend to characterize people with special needs.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way the media portrays people with Down syndrome and other disorders and disabilities. What are some of the stereotypes that exist about these communities? Does this show challenge or reinforce them?
What are some of the ways the media can raise more awareness about the misconceptions and challenges that people with Down syndrome face every day?
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