In honor of World Down Syndrome Day on March 21, three families recently shared their stories about raising children with Down syndrome in the hopes of breaking stereotypes and promoting acceptance.
‘The chillest guy you’ll ever meet’
Eating a chocolate muffin and drinking a nice, cold A&W root beer (his favorite), Nic Roesler, 10, was as content as could be, adding a few witty comments here and there as his mom spoke about him and his story.
“He is such a chill guy,” said Jordan Roesler, Nic’s mom.
Twenty weeks into her pregnancy, after being sent to Spokane for further examination, Jordan received confirmation that Nic had Down syndrome.
“They weren’t sure he was going to make it,” Roesler said.
After verification of the diagnosis, Jordan and her husband researched anything they could about Down syndrome and reached out to a friend who also had a child with the syndrome.
“We were given the best advice,” Jordan said. “She said ‘Pull up your big girl panties and do what you need to do for that child.’ ”
With that, she started calling preschools so she could sign him up, even though he wasn’t even born yet, and leaning on her friend and the internet for advice.
After his birth, they would read to him every night and were able to put him in a developmental preschool to help him learn and socialize.
“We just treated him like any kid,” Jordan said. “And he’s blown us away.”
She credits Nic’s older sister, Charlie, who is two years older than he and has been his biggest protector in school and in life.
“He loves to do anything with his sister,” Jordan said. “Charlie has paved the way for him. She is a big advocate.”
Jordan said that Nic has taught them all patience and has been “the greatest teacher of all time.”
“He’s changed the trajectory of what I wanted to do in life,” Jordan said.
Nic is the student council representative of his fifth-grade class, following in the footsteps of his sister.
At only 3 weeks old, while visiting relatives, Kenyon was plopped into a shallow swimming pool. Slowly she made her way to the edge, splashing the water.
“Like any other child I thought swimming would help with her muscle development and coordination,” said Christina Baldwin, Kenyon’s mom. “I had no idea the role swimming would play in her life.”
Kenyon was born in 1971 and diagnosed with Down syndrome a few hours after her birth. During this time Baldwin had never seen a person with Down syndrome or any other person with a developmental disability.
But that didn’t change the love she had for her.
“When I learned hours later that she might have Down syndrome, it never occurred to me that I should love her differently, treat her with less respect or put less effort into parenting,” Baldwin said. “I just knew her life mattered.”
“Kenyon, who is now 52 and lives in her own apartment in Pullman, has a long list of accomplishments. She became a superb swimmer and swam in the International Special Olympics. She rode a bike everywhere for a long time, gave talks in WSU classes and participated on panels at national conferences. She has traveled by herself, has worked since 1991 and written a column for the Moscow Food Co-op.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing, however.
“One day she came home from high school sobbing after students at school were bullying her,” Baldwin said. “Between sobs, she said ‘I know I am different, but why can’t they be nice to me?’”
Baldwin, since receiving her daughter’s diagnosis, has been an advocate for her and other individuals with Down syndrome and developmental disabilities, and she has stayed involved through organizations around town and nationwide.
“I think we should look at people like trees and just accept them just the way they are. To me, World Down Syndrome Day is honoring my daughter and other folks with Down syndrome who play an extraordinary role in our forest,” Baldwin said. “Their lives matter.”
Can’t stop this cheerleader
A’Reian Wright is like any other 17-year-old. She loves Starbucks, likes to get her nails done and constantly makes sure to remind her siblings that she is almost an adult.
But there are days when she will call home in tears, asking why she isn’t being included.
Co-parenting Wright, Shawndi Schroedl, her mom, and Darci Schroedl, her aunt, have made Down syndrome an open conversation in their household since the moment she was born.
Schroedl found out there was a possibility of Down syndrome through a blood test during her pregnancy but it wasn’t confirmed until birth.
After that, she made sure to stay on top of appointments and educational resources for her daughter, which she said has made a difference.
“As long as you get them in early intervention, speech therapy, occupational therapy and stay on top of those things, it’s so beneficial,” Shawndi said. “They are truly just a blessing.”
In addition to therapies and early intervention, Wright has been cheerleading since the age of 8, when she started on a special-needs team, and now is part of Pullman High School’s cheerleading team.
“A’Reian is an amazing dancer. She knows every TikTok dance there is,” said Darci, echoed by Shawndi. “She is sassy, fashionable and she really is so sweet.”
Both Shawndi and Darci advise parents or anyone coming to terms with a similar diagnosis to make Down syndrome an open conversation.
“Shawndi is great with having conversations with her and making her feel confident again and reminding her she is capable of anything,” Darci said.
Understanding Down syndrome
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that affects approximately one in 700 babies in the United States and occurs when there is an extra copy of Chromosome 21, leading to certain physical and intellectual characteristics.
Despite its prevalence, many misconceptions still exist about Down syndrome, and individuals with the condition often face stigma and discrimination.
But with early intervention and support, people with Down syndrome can lead fulfilling and independent lives, and many Moscow families and advocates are working to raise awareness and promote inclusivity.
Carrillo-Casas can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org