I have not figured out how to post a link here and make it work. So I will just copy and paste :) If you click on the title of the post though, it should take you to the newspaper site.
Families celebrate children during Down Syndrome Awareness Month
By Staci Schwickerath
Rylee Hageman sang into a microphone, while Jennifer McLeland and sisters Nichole and Ellie Stumbo played on the living room floor at the McLeland home Monday afternoon.
The four friends, three of whom have been diagnosed with Down Syndrome, laughed together as their mothers touted October as Down Syndrome Awareness Month.
It’s a cause close to the hearts of Ellen Stumbo, Chris Hageman and Kristin McLeland, who each have daughters with the condition.
“I’m very passionate about his. I realized when (Nichole) was born, if I am going to talk to someone about my daughter, I have to know my stuff. I have to be her advocate because I think her life has great value,” said Stumbo, whose daughter Nichole turned 1 year old earlier this month.
Stumbo said she and husband Andy have been especially excited to watch Nichole reach milestones as she grows.
“It’s such a big deal for her. When she was sitting on her own, I was jumping up and down. It’s like you witness a miracle. You just know it,” she said.
At the Hageman home, Chris said she and husband Dan treat 9-year-old Rylee no differently than her older brothers Nick and Caleb.
“She really does everything everybody else does — she just does it either a little slower or at a later date. We’ve just never done much with focusing on the Down Syndrome. She’s just done everything with us that she could. We’ve never treated her any differently,” said Hageman.
Jennifer’s parents Bill and Kristin McLeland, raise their 3-year-old the same as they would any other child.
“She just started preschool two days a week,” explained Kristin McLeland. “My expectations for her are probably different than a normal child’s parents, but I expect her to learn just as much.”
Each mother said she has high expectations for her daughter’s education.
With the exception of half an hour each school day, Rylee attends school in a regular third-grade classroom with her peers.
“She does have an aide that helps her, but academically, she does a few things differently. Instead of handwriting, she types things. She reads right along, pretty close to where the rest of her class reads,” said Hageman.
Rylee has many friends at school and has been involved in numerous activities, including a recent cheerleading camp.
“We just haven’t focused on the Down Syndrome. It’s just a fact of life. We treat her like any other child,” said Hageman. “She’s been around these kids since she was in preschool and they’re very kind to her and always include her.”
The girls have a few medical issues and attend speech and physical therapy to help with muscle strength. Even baby Nichole attends speech therapy, where she practices tongue and oral motor exercise.
The women, who were already connected through work or church, often go to each other if they have questions about raising their daughters. Stumbo is also a part of an online forum on Down Syndrome and a regional organization that plans to start a branch in Charles City. Designer Genes will host a parent group in Charles City and a play group in Mason City. Currently, the organization meets in Waterloo and Waverly. (For more on Designer Genes, call Stumbo at (641) 220-0507).
While the McLelands, Hagemans, and Stumbos don’t see their children as any different, some, unfortunately, still do.
“I think as moms it’s very obvious who is looking at your child as a child and who is looking at your child as Down Syndrome,” said Stumbo. “If you go to a website, it’s going to give you a list of medical issues and clinical descriptions of Down Syndrome. Yeah, it’s true, but it’s such a small part of what any person with Down Syndrome would be like. They are a child first, a person first. The Down Syndrome is such a small part of who they really are. I think people need to be reminded that they are not Down Syndrome. It’s a baby with Down Syndrome. It’s not who they are, it’s what they have.”
Hageman said she believes the local community has become more accepting of people with disabilities in the last decade.
“So many times we look at people with any kind of differing ability, whatever that is, and we get annoyed with things they do differently,” said Hageman. “Really, it’s not necessarily their choice to do the thing that they do. It’s the way that they are and we’re not going to change that necessarily. I don’t just mean with Down Syndrome, I mean in general. I look at how annoyed people get with anyone different and we have no tolerance. That’s the way they are and we need to look at it and say, ‘what can I do to be a little more tolerant?’ I would say in Charles City in the last nine years, there’s been a big shift of just kids and even adults being more accepting. ”
All three moms have a easy solution for those who think children with Down Syndrome are different.
“If you think that our children our different, spend a little time with them and get to know them. They’ll make you smile and laugh. Just get to know who they are,” said McLeland.
And smile everyone does — as the parents continue talking about their children, Jennifer puts down the toy she was playing with and runs over to Nichole, wrapping her arms around her in a big bear hug.
“Their ability to experience and to live joy and love and kindness and goodness and gentleness — not with babies maybe,” smiles Stumbo, “is so much greater than you or me or anyone else could know. If we were all a little more like people with Down Syndrome, this world would be a better place because we would accept people more. We would love them more. We would understand the true meaning of joy and how special laughter can be.”