Acceptance is key to understanding persons living with Down Syndrome – educator

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
A student while in class

Accepting and overcoming the challenges that come with caring for persons living with Down Syndrome is key when helping them integrate into society.

This was the assertion of the Principal of the Gifted Hands Learning Centre for Special Needs Children, Marcia Smith, who contends regardless of how people feel about individuals with this particular disability, Special Needs children have been, and will always be, a part of society.

During an interview with Inews, Smith explained that a culture change was needed to provide healthy environments for persons with Down Syndrome to flourish and contribute meaningfully to society.

This level of change and acceptance, she said, requires patience, cooperation, and a widespread understanding of the disability.

Principal of the Gifted Hands Learning Centre for Special Needs Children, Marcia Smith

“Children with Down Syndrome, like I said, they are humans, they could do anything that you can do and I can do. Nothing is absolutely wrong with anyone with Down Syndrome – the only thing that is wrong is people see them different,” Smith posited.

Smith believes that proper knowledge about Down Syndrome can play an integral role in helping young adults living with the disability gain employment opportunities.

She explained that they can take up jobs in the agriculture sector, and corporate settings among other industries.

“Mindsets have to change not only of the parents but lawmakers… Because they’re young adults I personally want to see companies employing persons with disabilities and do not discriminate [against] them and pay them,” Smith said.

Gifted Hands Learning Centre

The Gifted Hands Learning Centre for Special Needs Children was established by Smith, who cares for her autistic son.

Being the mother of an autistic child has allowed her to embrace a special ability to appreciate and care for children with special needs or who are differently-able. It was because of her keen focus on helping her son that he is currently in a mainstream school.

But ensuring that children with special needs are properly cared for could, in fact, be a costly undertaking, especially for some less fortunate families. Smith understands all too well the challenges associated with raising a child with special needs.

It is for this reason that Smith has been doing all that she can, in her own way, to help educate the children who are entrusted to her care at the Gifted Hands Learning Centre.

More than two dozen special needs children are currently enrolled at her school, and many after receiving the skills needed to function in society were transferred to mainstream primary and secondary schools.

A student in class

At the facility, the learners are engaged in arts and craft, basic subjects, agriculture and physical activities such as swimming, among others.

“Children get to the school as early as 7:30 am, but activities begin at 8:30 am. They do physical exercises. Reading, language and Maths are done on a one-on-one basis. I have a non-verbal student who comes for reinforcement. I liaise with the school to get an idea of the work he does. He comes from 1:00pm to 2:30pm,” she added.

Smith and her staffers have all been able to benefit from training from the National Centre for Educational Resource Development’s Special Needs Education Department.

Like Smith, her employees understand all too well that the service offered is not about earning a major profit. In fact, Smith has been working to ensure that her school can be accessed by all strata of society.

World Down Syndrome Day

Since 2006, World Down Syndrome Day has been observed each year on March 21 to create awareness. This year, the campaign’s theme is “End the Stereotypes”.

The estimated incidence of Down Syndrome is between 1 in 1000 to 1 in 1100 live births worldwide. Each year, approximately 3000 to 5000 children are born with this chromosome disorder.

To bring awareness to those who are born with three copies of Down Syndrome, individuals wear mismatched socks.

Some common physical features of Down Syndrome, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include a flattened nose bridge; almond-shaped eyes; a short neck; small ears, tiny white spots on the iris of the eyes, and small hands and feet.

Down Syndrome is a lifelong condition. Services early in life will often help babies and children with Down Syndrome to improve their physical and intellectual abilities.

Most of these services focus on helping children with Down Syndrome develop to their full potential. These services include speech, occupational, and physical therapy, and they are typically offered through early intervention programmes.