Tim Norton was devastated when his daughter was diagnosed with Down syndrome shortly after her birth in 2006.
He envisioned her growing up tragically disabled. The years ahead seemed filled with darkness.
A chance encounter on a ski slope, just a few months after his daughter was born, changed Norton’s outlook on Down syndrome and the prospects for his daughter’s happiness.
While skiing near his home in Massachusetts, a gifted teenage skier with Down syndrome, Melissa Joy Reilly, glided past him at the crest of a hill.
Norton had noticed Reilly earlier in the day but said nothing.
“Melissa stopped in front of me and said, ‘Hello, how are you?’” says Norton, of Westford, Mass. “I said, ‘Great. What a great night to be skiing.’”
And, just like that, Norton’s life was changed.
“Without her even knowing it, without her even trying — it was quite remarkable — I got just the positive lift that I needed,” says Norton, whose daughter, Margaret, is now 7.
“She opened my eyes to what the possibilities could be for my daughter,” says Norton, a ski instructor. “It was like, ‘Wow, this isn’t a big black hole. This is a girl who can walk and talk and ski.’”
Like Norton, many people are surprised to learn of the dramatic improvements in health and quality of life for children and adults with Down syndrome.
Advocates for people with Down syndrome feel a new urgency to spread the word about these advances, as more women undergo prenatal tests for Down syndrome and other genetic conditions.
The lives of the 250,000 Americans with Down syndrome today are radically different than a generation ago, says Brian Skotko, co-director of the Down syndrome program at Massachusetts General Hospital.
People with Down syndrome now live to an average of 60 years, according to the national society. Just a generation ago, they lived to an average of only 25.
Many graduate high school. Some take college classes. Some get married. About one in five has a job, says pediatrician Kathryn Ostermaier, medical director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Down Syndrome Clinic.
And the best may be yet to come, Skotko says. Thanks to early intervention, better therapies and educational opportunities, the generation of children with Down syndrome today may be the most accomplished ever, he says.
In March, a 15-year-old Oregon boy became one of the first people with Down syndrome to climb to a base camp on Mount Everest — a height of 17,600 feet.
Research by Skotko and others finds that life with Down syndrome is far happier — for parents, siblings and children themselves — than most imagine.
Read more at Life with Down syndrome is full of possibilities.
[Via Daily Record]