Down Syndrome – A Portrait of a Couple Who Both Have Down Syndrome
Monica and David
Available at Toronto Public Library.
Directed by Alexandra Codina, cousin of Monica
Theme: The first year of the marriage of Monica and David, a couple from Miami, Florida. They are affected by Down Syndrome, which is an intellectual disability.
Cause: Down Syndrome, also known as trisomy 21, is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is typically associated with physical growth delays, characteristic facial features, and mild to moderate intellectual disability. The average IQ of a young adult with Down syndrome is 50, equivalent to the mental age of an 8- or 9-year-old child, but this varies widely.
film: Monica & David is a 2009 documentary that focuses on the daily lives of Monica and David, a young married couple with Down syndrome. The film premiered on November 22, 2009 at IDFA and has won Best Documentary Feature at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival. Monica & David later had a television premiere on HBO on October 14, 2010
The characters: Both Monica and David were abandoned by their biological fathers, They were both brought up by single mothers. Monica’s mother re-married and her husband is effectively the father. The children are only children. When they decide to get married, most of the family felt “it is so cute the kids are getting together”. The cousin (also the director) realises that the couple is taking a very mature adult decision and decides to document it.
The first year: The couple has their own rooms, but is effectively still with the parents. The mothers constantly worry about what will happen when they die. The support system needed by a special needs child is tremendous. The mothers feel that nobody else will care for the youngsters after they depart.
The movie: During that first year, the family has to move to a new home in another town. This creates a lot of stress as new routines have to be learned even for daily routines like shaving and brushing. The 1 day-a-week job they have in the old town has to be given up, along with all their circle of friends. In that first year, David contracts diabetes and needs daily testing and insulin shots. This adds a lot of new components to the daily routine until David masters it.
Having babies: At one point, one of the mothers says, “ knowledge of contraception is as important for a special needs child as for the other children in the family”. David and Monica hold a cousin’s baby and wish it was their own. The couple know it will be almost impossible for them to have a baby of their own.
Persons who helped: The significant contribution to the couples’ lives is definitely that of the mothers. The other important person is the step father. There is also a support structure available through health workers and employment counsellors.
People who were unhelpful: Both their real fathers do the vanishing trick soon after the births. But for the mothers, the children would have been institutionalised or offered up for adoption. Monica in fact writes to her real father expressing her anguish and is ignored.
Employment: Despite the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), just 30% of disabled Americans are working. There is an urgent need to bring down the high unemployment rate.
Summary: The movie is a touching biography of a newly wed couple. While they are a little different, their issues are similar to those of other couples. There is an intimate insight into the lives of others in the family. And thankfully, there are still caring people in the world, especially mothers.