Families of Kids With Down Syndrome Have a Different Take on Special Needs

The Owensbys weren't strangers to sideways glances but that didn't stop them from providing their daughter with a rich life.
Promoted byPromoted by Pine-Sol
Nov 17, 2016·
Kelly Bryant is a Los Angeles–based freelance writer covering fashion, pop culture, and parenting for a variety of national publications.

TakePart and Pine-Sol want to redefine the word “homemaker” and break down stereotypes around who is shouting, “Welcome home,” at the end of the day. Let’s shine a light on today’s modern families and the new #MakersOfHome. From a blended family with adoptive children to a single mom to a family with a special needs child, these stories show us that even as families have changed, love has not. So change the image in our minds of who is responsible for making today’s homes.

When Diane Owensby was told her daughter Camille was born with Down syndrome, her first reaction probably wasn’t what one would expect from a new parent delivered such news.

“I asked, ‘Will she be able to drive?’ ” she remembers. “I wasn’t concerned about anything else except her independence. We don’t treat her any different. We treat her as a typical child.”

As an interracial couple, Diane and her husband, Randy, were not strangers to sideways glances and unfavorable comments prior to becoming parents. The strength in their decision to ignore such negativity and not live in what she calls a “bubble” now extends to a life that includes a daughter with special needs.

“We literally just stopped. We stopped worrying about it,” says Owensby. “We stopped thinking about it—what anybody else would think, what the doctors were saying. We let our daughter live, and we live with her.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6,000 babies are born with Down syndrome annually, and an estimated one out of every 1,200 people in the United States is living with the genetic condition. While the number of children born with it increased 30 percent between 1979 and 2003, the life expectancy of one living with Down syndrome has improved dramatically. In 1960, on average, one was expected to live until age 10. Today, people with Down syndrome have an average life expectancy of 47.

The ability to experience longer lives isn’t the only promising development: Those living with Down syndrome are experiencing a better quality of life, and many new opportunities exist. For example, Noelia Garella, a young woman who made headlines as the first person with Down syndrome to work as a preschool teacher in Argentina, broke down barriers with her successes. It took perseverance in the face of prejudice against her condition, but the 31-year-old is living out her childhood dream of being a teacher, and all it took was for one employer to give her a chance.

“There were people in positions of responsibility who were convinced that it wasn't possible for a teacher with Down syndrome to actually teach,” said school director Alejandra Senestrari in an interview with news agency Agence France-Presse. “With time, even those who had been opposed joined in the initiative to hire Noe as a teacher. We very quickly realized that she had a strong vocation. She gave what the children in the nursery classes most appreciate, which is love.”

Education isn’t the only arena in which stereotypes are being shattered. In 2015 Madeline Stuart, an Australian model with Down syndrome landed seven modeling contracts, walked during New York Fashion Week, and starred in a bridal campaign that garnered much social media attention. While the 19-year-old may look at her achievements as just another day at work, she’s giving the thousands of children, teens, and adults with special needs a sense of familiarity that has been lacking in fashion and beauty advertising. It’s a huge win for those living with Down syndrome and their families.

“The fact is Maddy just believes she can do things, and because she doesn’t understand that it’s hard to do things, she just achieves everything,” Stuart’s mother, Rosanne, told The Mighty. “She doesn’t worry about what other people think. She just believes in herself. She has no hesitation, no hang ups and she doesn’t judge anybody. She just loves and doesn’t put walls up or put people in boxes like we do.”