The gifts of a child with Down syndrome

Ruth Zive shares her daughter's triumphs and highlights some of the many gifts a child with Down syndrome can bring.

Ruth and her daughter, Julia, at five years old.
Ruth and her daughter Julia at five years old.

I was told that she would be developmentally disabled. I was told that she might not walk, or speak, or thrive. I was told that she might have a heart defect, that she would probably have chronic ear infections, that she would be frail and that she stood a much higher chance of having leukemia at some point.

When my beautiful daughter Julia was born, I was told that she had Down syndrome.

Down syndrome is a developmental disorder named after Dr. Langdon Down, who determined that the disability was the result of an extra (third) 21st chromosome—hence the reason World Down Syndrome Day falls on March 21st (3/21…get it?).

Next month, Julia is turning 17. What strikes me after all of these years (aside from the fact that the horrific picture painted by doctors, nurses and therapists has never come to light) is that Julia has accomplished so very much. And these achievements, which are actually pretty typical, are rarely highlighted when a child with Down syndrome comes into this world. It’s always those negative presumptions that are underscored.

So, in honour of World Down Syndrome Day, I am delighted to have a forum to herald the triumphs and to tell the world about the many gifts a child with Down syndrome can offer. Here are some other things you can potentially expect of a child with Down syndrome.

Expect ambitious enthusiasm for life. Julia recently compiled a list of her fondest wishes (which she diligently wrote out in rainbow colours and taped to the inside of her closet door). Amongst her hopes—she longs for a bright yellow car, a date with Ross Lynch, a career as a baseball player and to be treated like an adult.

Your child may be very talented. On her own (and without my knowledge), Julia tried out for her high-school cheer-leading team, and made it. She’s an incredible dancer and once performed in the half time show at the Toronto Raptors basketball game.

Prepare to be accosted wherever you go. I cannot go anywhere with Julia (the mall, the doctor, the movies) without having her bump into someone that she knows. And she is always greeted with exuberance and love—I have come to be known simply as Julia’s mom.

Your child may be very healthy and hearty. A diagnosis of Down syndrome can involve health risks, no doubt. Julia has hypothyroidism, for instance. But she has been remarkably healthy. As are most of the kids with Down syndrome that I know. She has never had an ear infection, by the way.

Your child may be very smart. Julia is not at grade level academically. But, she is extremely clever. She loves math, her sense of direction is impeccable, she is very computer and social media savvy, and she is an extremely convincing liar (okay, maybe that’s not necessarily an asset).

I dream of a world that embraces difference. Our celebration of people like Julia is one small step in that direction.

On World Down Syndrome Day, I urge everyone to take a moment and purge their minds of the stereotypes so that they too can enjoy the boundless gifts that someone like my daughter has to offer.

This article was originally published on March 21, 1014.

Ruth Zive is an experienced wordsmith, content marketing strategist and Founder of Xpressly, a full service marketing consultancy serving clients throughout North America. Ruth is a mom of five, an Ashtanga yoga freak, a special-needs advocate and a vegetarian chocoholic. You can learn more about Ruth at www.xpressly.ca.

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