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Welcome to this week’s edition of Fridays with Friends! This week, our friend and MSNN Guest Blogger Michelle from Big Blueberry Eyes tells us about the abilities and individuality of her daughter, Kayla, who has Down Syndrome.
October is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month. While I think it’s important to raise awareness all year long, which I try to do on my blog – even subtly by just going on with our day-to-day lives, I appreciate that there is a month dedicated to Down Syndrome Awareness. It is a time when extra effort is made to educate the public about what Down syndrome really is; a time to change the stereotypes and misconceptions. One of the ways I raise awareness during this month is through the annual 31 for 21 Blog Challenge (which I am hosting this year). The challenge is to blog every day in Oct (31) for Down syndrome, which is medically known as Trisomy 21.
I think one of the greatest obstacles for people with Down syndrome is society’s continuously outdated, pre-conceived image of what Down syndrome is. Years ago, for whatever reason, it was thought babies with Down syndrome couldn’t, and shouldn’t, be raised at home by their families. It was thought that they couldn’t learn and function in society. They were institutionalized. They became adults who didn’t know much of anything because they were never taught anything. How would any of us function if we grew up in that environment without love, support, stimulation, socialization, and education?
When given a chance at life and raised in a loving home environment and provided with a multitude of opportunities, babies with Down syndrome will thrive. They will develop (even though they might be slower to develop, they will still develop!) and grow, and learn. They will become adults who can lead independent, or semi-independent lives. They have likes and dislikes, different talents, and a range of emotions and feelings. Most importantly, they should be treated with respect as to the individuals they are.
Having a child with Down syndrome has not stopped us from being a typical family or doing things we would have done had Kayla not been born with Down syndrome. We travel (we went to Denmark just this past summer), sight-see, go to zoos, amusement parks, fairs, beaches, museums, movies, bowling, restaurants, birthday parties, ball games, and stage performances. Our lives are busy, full, challenging, and rewarding. Kayla is exposed to many events, people and experiences. She is exposed to life. Having a child with Down syndrome has not limited our lives.
I had no idea what to expect after Kayla was born. I didn’t know what she would be capable of, but as we have grown together I have discovered that she is so very capable of so many things. Some things are harder for her to accomplish, some things she struggles with, and some things she might not do as well as her typical peers, but she tries and she does them to the best of her abilities. And most of the time, she’s having fun!
Kayla is adventurous and usually eager to try new things. She’ll frequently tell us, “Let me do it!” or “Let me try!” or “I do it myself!” She loves the water, and even though she can’t swim yet (maybe she could if I’d sign her up for lessons!) she seems to be in her element when we’re at a water-park, pool, or the beach. Get her up on a horse and she won’t stop giggling! She thoroughly enjoys dancing, painting, hands-on fun at museums, being outside, and live performances. Her excitement is contagious. She likes stories and right now her favorite book character is Pinkalicious. She also loves to run. Every day she runs to and from the bus stop. I wouldn’t surprised to find Kayla participating in track or cross-country when she’s in high school. She’ll find her niche, and she’ll have successes. There are more possibilities for the future now as well. There are programs at colleges all over the country to enable people with disabilities to continue their education after high school.
Down syndrome is a condition Kayla has. It is something she was born with; an extra chromosome. It isn’t the whole of who she is, it is just something that is part of her. She is her own person with her own personality. She is this incredible little girl with bright, sparkling eyes and a smile that lights up her face. She is a military brat – going with the flow and adjusting with relative ease to transitions to new homes and new schools. She is a big sister who adores, and sometimes fights with, her brother. She is strong-willed, energetic, empathetic, and full of love and friendship. She is so much more than Down syndrome. We are raising her to be a confident, independent self-advocate.
This is what society needs to focus on – the abilities and individuality of people with Down syndrome. They have so much to offer if just given a chance.
Michelle Helferich is a former Air Force brat, married to another former Air Force brat (whom she met in high school in Germany!). They’re raising their kids in the ‘military-brat’ (Air Force) lifestyle. She has two kids – Kayla who is 9, and Lucas who is 4. Kayla has Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome) & Celiac disease. Michelle is taking a (long) break from her civil service job to be home with her kids. She is a part-time independent consultant for Discovery Toys and maintains a blog at Big Blueberry Eyes.
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