This Thursday, you can join me in wearing mismatching socks to honor World Down Syndrome Day. This annual tradition spreads awareness about the uniqueness that comes with the condition.
Clarabelle, “Belle” for short, is one of the most impressive and inspiring people I know.
She is smart, sweet and sassy, with a contagious smile that brightens any room. She loves unconditionally and is adorably affectionate.
Even though she’s only 5 years old, she has managed to outsmart me more times than I care to count. She brings joy and warmth to everyone who loves her, and I am very lucky to be one of those people. No matter how bad of a day I may be having, she never fails to put a smile on my face and in my heart.
That’s what I see when I look at Belle. But those who are not fortunate enough to know her might only see that she has Down syndrome.
Belle was my client when I interned as her personal care assistant. Because we worked so well together, her parents asked me to be her babysitter, and I’ve loved the job ever since. It’s allowed me to have Belle in my life long after the internship ended.
Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal condition in our country, affecting one in every 700 children born in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with Down syndrome have three copies of their 21st chromosome instead of two copies like the rest of us.
In honor of the third 21st chromosome, March 21 (3/21) has been designated as World Down Syndrome Day to celebrate people with Down syndrome.
Despite the widespread prevalence of Down syndrome, many people misunderstand it and dismiss those with the condition as being disabled and somehow less important than the mainstream population.
But those people have it all wrong.
Despite a few developmental delays, Belle is just like any other 5-year-old kid. She hates having her hair brushed. She loves “Frozen,” “PAW Patrol” and Elmo. She delights in doing the opposite of what she’s told. Overall, I see more similarities than differences when I compare Belle to other children her age.
Time and again, she lures me into dancing to Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers’ “I Won’t Back Down” while she sings every word. These moments with Belle have taught me some of life’s most valuable lessons — not only that my dance moves need major work, but that choosing to live presently regardless of how my day is going, is only a few awful dance moves away.
Belle and all of the other people born with Down syndrome have so much love to give, and they are fully deserving of love in return. Those of you who are fortunate enough to have someone with Down syndrome in your lives already know what I mean. As for everyone else, I urge you to get to know someone with the condition. Then, you’ll feel it too.
To the current and future parents of those with Down syndrome, I can assure you that the world will be blessed by your child. I see nothing but pure love and endless potential in Clarabelle.
And I know even if her parents could, they wouldn’t change a thing.