A day to celebrate some unique individuals

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 20, 2011

By Jill Wagoner
For the Salisbury Post
Today we celebrate World Down Syndrome Day. How many people can that possibly affect, you may ask? Actually, about one out of every 800 babies born.
On March 21, Down syndrome organizations throughout the world participate in events to raise public awareness. The date was chosen to signify the uniqueness of Down syndrome in the triplication of the 21st (trisomy) chromosome.
Today we celebrate those individuals born with an extra chromosome, or “designer genes,” as some parents like to say. We celebrate the fact that they are more like their peers than they are different from them.
Down syndrome is not a reason to pity or feel uncomfortable around a person or family. A person with Down syndrome typically has some delays in the areas of gross and fine motor skills, speech and cognitive development; however, just like all of us, capabilities and skills vary from person to person.
Today we take time to create awareness about the fact that these individuals are really not that different from you or me.
Babies with Down syndrome need to be fed, changed, held and loved. Toddlers with Down syndrome enjoy playing and go through their “terrible twos.” Children with Down syndrome ride bikes, go to school and participate in Scouts, dance and sports. Adolescents with Down syndrome rebel against their parents and have raging hormones. Teenagers with Down syndrome go to high school and begin determining their future path, be that vocational school, a job or, for some, college. Adults with Down syndrome have careers, participate in religious communities, fall in love, get married and live long, happy lives.
So today we celebrate.
We celebrate my son, who is a vibrant, red-headed toddler with almond-shaped blue eyes filled with curiosity, hope and determination. Like the other children in his class, he likes bubbles, swimming, pulling his socks off, and a long list of typical toddler activities of mischief.
Today we celebrate the members of our community who have Down syndrome, but who also have dreams, interests, jobs, family and friends.
We also celebrate the organizations that serve and support these individuals. Organizations like Smart Start Rowan, which funds and supports early intervention programs; Partners in Learning Child Development & Family Resource Center, which houses an inclusive program for children with special needs and provides therapy services to children in our community; and the Child Development Service Agency, which provides family support and services to developmentally delayed children ages birth to 3. We celebrate special education teachers all over Rowan County who are caring and creative. We celebrate the ARC of Rowan, which provides programming and services to individuals and families, and Rowan Vocational Opportunities, which provides a program for individuals to develop job and life skills that will lead to employment within the community.
The clinical literature and attitudes of yesterday about Down syndrome are fading, and emerging is a new day where unique individuality is valued and people understand that individuals with Down syndrome are valuable members of schools, work forces and the community at large.
In my experience, when you talk to a family with a loved one with Down syndrome they will tell you they have no regrets. Their journey has been richer, the color palette on the horizon somehow more brilliant than those whose lives have not been touched by such an experience.
For me, thus far in our 18-month journey, I have learned that true faith does not disappoint, love never fails and to take nothing for granted. So today I celebrate my son, Cooper, and all people with Down syndrome, and I ask you to celebrate with us today and every day.