- March 21 is observed annually as World Down’s Syndrome Day and is used to heighten awareness about the condition as well as highlight the positive contributions that can be made by persons living with it.
- Statistics have shown that the risk of children being born with the condition increases in cases where mothers are over age 35.
- This additional genetic material alters the course of development and causes the characteristics associated with Down’s syndrome.
March 21 is observed annually as World Down’s Syndrome Day and is used to heighten awareness about the condition as well as highlight the positive contributions that can be made by persons living with it.
The chromosomal abnormality affects one in every seven hundred (700) babies born each year.
Statistics have shown that the risk of children being born with the condition increases in cases where mothers are over age 35.
The condition occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21.
This additional genetic material alters the course of development and causes the characteristics associated with Down’s syndrome.
“Genetically, our cells are made up of 22 pairs of chromosomes; an error in cell division called nondisjunction results in a reproductive cell with an abnormal number of chromosomes,” Paediatric Cardiologist, Dr. Charmaine Scott, tells JIS News.
The condition, she further explains, can be detected during gestation by conducting a test referred to as amniocentesis, where amniotic fluid is sampled using a hollow needle inserted into the uterus to screen for any abnormalities in the developing fetus.
For Judith Richards, whose daughter, Jada Richards, has the abnormality, news came a day after she was born in 2005, when the physician examining the youngster asked her to take the child for further assessments.
Dr. Scott confirmed Jada’s condition following diagnosis of the symptoms and her condition.
This marked the beginning of a new and unfamiliar journey for second-time parents, Radcliffe and Judith Richards.
Jada was found to have a heart condition called atrioventricular septal defect (AVSD) and required urgent surgery, which was scheduled for January of 2006 in Cleveland, Ohio, USA.
The surgery was undertaken to close a hole in her heart and to divide a single pulmonary vein to create a second that would lead oxygenated blood to the lungs.
“Jada was slightly blue when she was born. The doctor said that it was caused by a lack of oxygenated blood flowing to the lungs,” Mrs. Richards explains.
Following the surgery, Jada’s condition improved significantly under the watchful eyes of her parents; older brother, Radj, who was eight at the time of her birth; and doctors, who monitored her developmental progress.
Although it took Jada almost two years to learn how to walk and about five to start speaking relatively fluently, she remained bubbly and full of life.
“I would put her feet on mine and walk with her as a means of modelling for her to catch on,” Mrs. Richards points out.
A physiotherapist was assigned to assist Jada with muscle development, as soft or weak muscles are also a common trait of Down’s syndrome.
Despite functioning at the level of a six-year-old, Jada is now a very independent and fun-loving 12-year-old who attends the Windsor School of Special Education in May Pen Clarendon, where she is in grade Seven.
“She is doing very well in school; I went to a parents’ meeting at her school and the teachers are very impressed with her progress, and she has a very positive attitude,” says Mrs. Richards, who is Principal of Alley Primary School in the parish.
Mrs. Richards further said that in her spare time, Jada is a very creative make-up artist who demonstrates her skills on her dolls as well as her face.
“She watches the make-up videos on YouTube and replicates whatever she sees in the tutorial, and she has fun doing this. It is one of her favourite pastimes as well as modelling,” Mrs. Richards tells JIS News.
Many persons with Down’s syndrome struggle with a range of ailments that sometimes include respiratory illness, hearing impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, childhood leukemia and thyroid conditions.
Jada has, however, been fortunate to have fairly good health after overcoming her initial heart condition.
Mrs. Richards is currently a board member of the Down’s syndrome Foundation and is instrumental in coaching parents whose children have Down’s syndrome.
She encourages them to accept that their youngsters are different and seek early intervention, while including them in daily activities.
“They have their own contributions to make to society, and if we exercise the patience that is necessary to facilitate this, we would sometimes be amazed,” Mrs. Richards points out.