Copy of text from article in the Bristol Evening Post on 6th June 2000 for Downs Syndrome Awareness week.
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My son Freddie has a little extra. A little extra enthusiasm, a little
extra innocence, a little extra charm. Oh, and did I mention an extra
chromosome? Freddie has Downs Syndrome.
This week is Downs Syndrome Awareness week. Despite the huge increase in
awareness over the last two decades, up until the day Freddie was born,
I had had no contact with Downs Syndrome and knew very little about the
condition. I, like many people thought that it was a sort of illness,
that it was something that happened to older mothers and that families
with Downs children must be terribly brave. I was wrong on all counts!
Downs Syndrome is a condition effecting 1 in 1000 people. It results in
an error in all or some of the cells that make up our bodies. While
most people have 46 chromosomes in each cell, Freddie has 47. This extra
chromosome slightly changes the orderly development of the body and
brain, giving rise to the classic characteristics of the Syndrome. These
sometimes, but not always, include the beautiful almond shaped eyes, a
single palmar crease on one or both hands, small features, mild to
moderate learning difficulties and exceptional social intelligence.
Freddie was lucky to be born at St Michael's Hospital in Bristol where
we received tremendous support from day one and there were lots of
people to answer our questions and allay our fears.
Freddie could not have picked a better century to be born. Medical care
has advanced to the stage where many previously fatal physical
conditions can be corrected or vastly improved. In the last few
decades, society has also become far more accepting of mental illness
and physical disability. The reaction of different age groups to our
news about Freddie was very telling. While most people were upset and
rather wary, anyone under 20 reacted as though we'd given birth to the
latest fashion accessory! To a large extent this is probably due to the
number of children with Downs Syndrome now attending mainstream school.
Freddie's everyday life is little different from that of any other
toddler. He goes to the Little Haven Day Nursery with his brother
George. We go swimming, attend the local toddler group, play with
friends, go to play parks, and (a great favourite) go to the Wacky
Warehouse. The only difference is that Freddie has a speech therapist,
a physiotherapist and a portage worker to help with his early
development. In particular, he is learning Makaton, a system of sign
language, words and symbols, which help him learn the concept of
communications. At 18 months he already knows about 10 signs.
His prospects are also very different from the bleak outlook 50 years
ago. Most children with Downs Syndrome now attend mainstream school,
learning to read and write and often get GCSEs. Many adults live semi-
independently and have jobs.
Through out the last few years the family have been fortunate to be
supported by the local branch of the Downs Syndrome Association and now
take an active part in their many activities and outings. In addition
to supporting parents and careers of people with Downs Syndrome, the
Association also liaise with Health professionals giving talks about the
realities of life with a disabled child and providing placements for
If you would like any further information about Downs Syndrome or the
Bristol Branch of the Downs Syndrome Association, please call Jane on
0117 9491397 or see our web site at http://www.dsa-bristol.org.uk/
18th May 2000
Introduction paragraph copyright - Barbara Curtis 1999