World Down Syndrome Day is perhaps my favorite day of the year. As a mother of four children, and only one who has Down syndrome, perhaps it’s shocking that I openly admit such a thing. But on March 21, for one day, my daughter is the star. We focus only on the positives and the joy that Down syndrome brings to our life. We wear blue and yellow, crazy socks, and spread our mission of acceptance and inclusion.
March 21st (symbolic due to 3/21, or 3 copies of the 21st chromosome) seeks to highlight the accomplishments of those with Down syndrome and gives their families and friends the chance to celebrate the unique perspective we have been given as members of this club. I’ve been invited to speak to elementary schools and regularly blog about what life is like being the mother of a child with Down syndrome. While I love spreading awareness and being an open book on the subject of special needs parenting (I also have a child with Autism), nothing quite compares to chatting with those who are also in the trenches with you.
Gigi’s Playhouse Fargo
With the support of GiGi’s Playhouse in Fargo, we have access to resources and programming that will help us in our mission of letting Claire lead a happy, independent life. Opened in September 2015, GiGi’s offers completely free programming to all participants and their families and offers an incredible support system. It is the one place we can go where we are fully embraced and understood; the highs and lows that accompany parenting a child with Down syndrome are complex.
We were living in Omaha, NE when Claire was born (April 2015) and I remember being so surprised when a friend from home sent me the news article that a GiGi’s was opening in Fargo. There are 48 locations in the United States and Mexico, creating a global message of acceptance through purposeful programs. This would be a gift to the community, but it was a small community. In its four years of being open, GiGi’s Playhouse Fargo has grown by leaps and bounds, far surpassing the expectation for a town our size. The FM area is a truly unique place that is equal parts philanthropic and inclusive.
Programs That Make a Difference
GiGi’s Playhouse provides programs for infants through adulthood. In classes specific to their age ranges, individuals with Down syndrome learn gross motor, fine motor, social, and language skills.
The GiGi’s Playhouse Literacy Tutoring Program uses a methodology with documented success based on the research by professionals in the field. Trained tutors work at the level of the child, continually challenging and encouraging him/her while utilizing a combination of personalized sight word and project-based approaches with commercially developed programs, books, and online resources.
Building math skills for individuals with Down syndrome increases independence in their school, in the community, and in the workplace. The aim of The GiGi’s Playhouse Math Tutoring Program is to help promote a positive experience of learning mathematics with a sound foundation of basic number understanding.
GiGiFIT Infant, Toddler, Kid, Teen, and Adult – GiGi’s Playhouse Fargo has them all. GiGiFIT was created in collaboration with skilled Physical Therapists who work specifically with individuals with Down syndrome. The GiGiFIT programs are designed to address common issues for individuals with Down syndrome including hypotonia, excessive joint laxity, and decreased balance. We are blessed to have physical therapists from Pediatric Partners lead GiGiFIT infant and toddler sessions.
A Bright Future
The possibilities for people with Down syndrome are better than they ever have been. We hope for Claire’s life to be rich and fulfilling. Maybe she’ll go to college and live in her own home as an adult, but I’m not going to sugar-coat the efforts that go into making that happen.
Deciding to become a parent is a huge decision, and from my journey so far I’ve learned that you never know what our children will bring into our lives. You can’t predict or control who our children will be or what joys and challenges they will present. Our visions of the perfect children we produce are only illusions, projections of ourselves. Parenting so far has been a powerful journey of learning to truly see and accept my children for who they are, and learn how to best address their needs.