October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, a time when folks around the country hold fundraisers and raise awareness for the genetic disorder that affects approximately 400,000 in America and four million people around the world.

In 1995, the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) introduced Buddy Walks, the world’s most widely recognized public awareness program for the Down syndrome community. Beginning with 17 walks around the nation its inaugural year, Buddy Walks has expanded to over 250 global walks a year, raising $13 million in 2013 alone. So how do events like Buddy Walks help the cause?

1. DSAM widens Familiarity

DSAM helps familiarize the masses about the disorder. Even basic facts about the causes of Down syndrome (Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21) are widely unknown. Many also don’t realize how common it is, when in reality Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal condition.

Spreading awareness also means enlightening the public on the characteristics of Down syndrome —many may not realize that while children with Down syndrome may have had their development altered, they can still grow up to be intelligent, independent adults with their own opinions and wonderful personalities.

Leading not only to understanding, awareness also helps fight against discrimination. Awareness also leads to funding, which betters the research, which can better medical treatment and eventually help the cost of treatment to decrease.

2. DSAM Funds Research

Although much research has been done, there remains a ways to go in Down syndrome research. For example, learning more about the intellectual disability can help a Down syndrome baby from the outset to develop into the healthiest person possible with improved learning and memory skills. Research-fueled solutions can also mean a decrease in healthcare costs.

3. Research Leads to Medical Progress

Babies with Down syndrome are immediately expensive. Medical treatment for a child with Down syndrome is 12 to 13 times more expensive than that of a child without Down syndrome. Higher costs can ensue when a congenital heart defect is also a factor or if the person develops Alzheimer’s — a common issue when people with Down syndrome are in their 50s and 60s. The good news is that strides in medical research has helped tremendously, and has actually doubled the lifespan of a Down syndrome person.

4. DSAM’s Mission is to Eliminate Discrimination

Misinformation leads to discrimination, which is why organizations like NDSS celebrates Down Syndrome Awareness Month. The Society specifically says on its website, “The mission of the National Down Syndrome Society is to be the national advocate for the value, acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome.”

There’s still work to be done, but awareness increases understanding. It’s important that more people comprehend that despite challenges, children with Down syndrome can grow to be stable, successful, and happy individuals with empathy and compassion, who go to college, work, vote, marry, and volunteer. Awareness of what the everyday lives of people with Down syndrome entails can only lead to progress and equality.

To find a Buddy Walk near you, go to the National Down Syndrome Society here, or you can find other ways to give here