Marieta Howard is a trained physiotherapist and mother to a 32-year-old woman with Down Syndrome, as well as three other children. Although her third child’s diagnosis presented their family with serious challenges, she continues to spread a message of hope.
“Every child, including those with Down syndrome, has the potential to lead a fulfilling life. Early interventions, therapies, and supportive environments can help children with Down syndrome thrive. They can learn to walk, talk, play, and develop important life skills, just like any other child. While there might be certain developmental delays, with patience and love, these youngsters can achieve their milestones,” Marieta explains.
“Watching our daughter grow into the thriving, vibrant woman she is today has confirmed that individuals with Down syndrome can lead full, rich lives filled with accomplishments, friendships, and love. They can attend school, make friends, and participate in activities they enjoy.
“In fact, many people with Down syndrome grow up to become contributing members of their communities, pursuing careers, hobbies, and dreams. It’s important to recognise and celebrate their achievements, no matter how big or small.”
What is Down Syndrome?
At its core, Down syndrome is a genetic difference that affects the way a person grows and develops. Our bodies are made up of tiny parts called cells, and these cells contain structures called chromosomes. Humans typically have 46 chromosomes in each cell, arranged in pairs. However, in individuals with Down syndrome, there’s an extra copy of chromosome 21. This extra chromosome can lead to certain physical and intellectual characteristics that make each person unique.
Testing & Statistics: Understanding the odds
Pregnant women have the option to undergo tests to check for the likelihood of having a baby with Down syndrome. These tests include ultrasound scans and blood tests, which can give an indication of the chances. It’s important to remember that these tests can’t provide a definitive diagnosis; they only offer a probability.
Statistics show that Down syndrome is relatively common. About 1 in every 700 babies born worldwide has Down syndrome. This means that there are many families around the globe who are experiencing the joys and challenges of raising a child with this condition.
Why Does Down syndrome happen?
The exact cause of Down syndrome isn’t fully understood, but scientists believe that it’s a result of a random occurrence during the formation of eggs or sperm. It’s not caused by anything parents did or didn’t do – it’s simply a genetic variation that happens naturally. It is more common amongst older parents.
“Down syndrome is a part of the beautiful tapestry of human diversity. It’s a reminder that each person is special in their own way, and every life is worth celebrating.”
Challenges parents can expect
The early years of a child’s life are filled with crucial developmental milestones. While children with Down syndrome can achieve these milestones, they might reach them at their own pace. Challenges might include:
Babies and Toddlers (0-3 years)
- Physical development. Delays in achieving motor skills like sitting, crawling, and walking.
- Speech and communication. Slower language development, difficulty with speech clarity.
- Medical concerns. Increased vulnerability to certain health issues like heart defects, diabetes hearing problems, and respiratory infections.
- Feeding difficulties. Challenges in breast or bottle feeding, and a higher likelihood of digestive issues.
Children (4-10 years)
- Learning & education. Potential for cognitive and academic delays, requiring tailored educational approaches.
- Social interactions. Difficulty with social cues, making friends, and understanding complex social dynamics.
- Physical activities. Continued motor skill development, possibly needing assistance with certain activities.
- Speech therapy. Ongoing need for speech therapy to improve communication skills.
Teenagers (11-18 years)
- Puberty. Adolescents with Down syndrome may experience puberty at a different pace, requiring special guidance.
- Independence. Encouraging self-care skills and fostering a sense of independence.
- Social inclusion. Navigating social pressures and inclusion in schools and community activities.
- Transition planning. Preparing for adulthood, including vocational training and life skills.
The journey of raising a child with Down syndrome is filled with unique experiences, challenges, and triumphs. In the early, formative years, parents may encounter certain obstacles, but it’s important to remember that these challenges are just one part of a much bigger picture. “In the face of challenges, it’s crucial for parents of children with Down syndrome to seek out a supportive community. Connecting with other parents who understand the journey can provide a sense of belonging, shared experiences, and valuable advice. These communities can be a source of comfort and inspiration, reminding parents that they are not alone on this path,” Marieta advises.
Down syndrome is a part of the beautiful tapestry of human diversity. It’s a reminder that each person is special in their own way, and every life is worth celebrating.
With the right support, encouragement, and understanding, individuals with Down syndrome can lead lives filled with happiness, achievement, and meaningful connections. Let’s come together to create a world where everyone is valued and embraced for who they are – a world where differences are not just accepted but cherished.
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