March 21st is recognized as World Down Syndrome Day. We come together to advocate for inclusion and celebrate our friends and family members with a diagnosis of Down syndrome. This special day is a reminder of how strong this community is.
If you would have asked me 10 years ago what I knew about Down syndrome, I would have answered “not much.” Nine years ago, after an uneventful pregnancy, everything changed. I gave birth to our son Elijah. I can remember being so tired, but the excitement of meeting our son pushed me through the exhaustion. During the pregnancy, there was never any discussion or indication that Elijah would have a diagnosis of Down syndrome. When he was born the room was quiet. The doctor laid him on my chest for a bit and then they took him for a minute to weigh him and clean him up. Still, there was no discussion of a diagnosis, but I could tell something was being whispered. My husband was on active duty in the Army at the time, and both of our children were born in a military hospital.
I can remember the exact moment everything changed for us as parents. We settled in our hospital room enjoying the time as a family. The doctor came in. She picked up Elijah, turned to us, and in that moment said seven words that changed our lives, “I think your son has Down syndrome.” These were her first words to us as new parents. I can remember in that moment wanting nothing more than to hold my son and cry. I knew nothing about the diagnosis. We felt like we had to let go of the future we planned for Elijah. We grieved and that is ok. A couple of weeks later we had the official genetic testing results that showed Elijah had a diagnosis of Robertsonian Translocation Down syndrome.
Elijah just turned nine years old. As I am writing this, he is standing over my shoulder giggling. I told Elijah what I was doing and that I needed his help. I asked Elijah what words he thinks of when I say Down syndrome. Elijah said, “rocket ship” and made the hand motion of the ship blasting off. He then pointed back at himself with a smile. I asked him why he picked those words, and he said, “it’s me.” As he giggled and ran off, I kept saying the words “rocket ship” over and over again in my head.
As I watched him play, my thoughts of a rocket ship led me to think of Newton and the three laws of motion. At that moment my educator brain activated. Rockets require fuel. This fuel composition depends on the mass of the rocket. So, there is not a one size fits all mixture. Newton’s first law states that unless you apply force on an object, whether it is a push or pull, it will stay at a state of rest. The second law, the law of motion, discusses acceleration. The two factors involved in the acceleration of an object are the amount of force applied and the mass of the object. Lastly, the third law, in simple terms, is that you get back what you give.
After we got home from the hospital with Elijah my mindset changed. I set out to learn as much as I could about his diagnosis. He receives several different therapies at school, thrives in his general and special education classes, and is a typical third-grade boy. We push and pull Elijah to be the best he can be. Like a rocket ship we, as parents, strive to find the amount of force that works best for him. Just like rocket fuel, there is not a one size fits all plan for those with a diagnosis of Down syndrome. All rockets need to make it from point “A” to point “B.” Some are fast getting there, and some are slower. Over time you find what works, apply the right amount of force, and you will see them soar. Elijah gave us a different perspective on life that we never knew we needed. He is our son, he is a big brother, he is a friend to others, and he never ceases to amaze us.