If I Could Go Back…

It’s Down Syndrome Awareness Month (predominantly in the US, but happy to embrace it as I always do), so what better time to direct you to a short film I had the pleasure of contributing to.

I have mentioned The Specials before (an online series that also aired on OWN in the US), they have been a fabulous, fun part of our journey with Down’s Syndrome.

I used to work for a company that sold documentaries internationally and we represented The Specials before I was pregnant with Audrey.

It was quite a moment for me, when, back at work visiting colleagues with my small baby, I bumped into Katy (producer of The Specials) and for the first time, I felt excited to tell someone that my baby had Down’s Syndrome! I knew that she would get it.

Anyway, the company I worked for went into liquidation, time passed, but I thankfully remained in touch with Katy because she’s just one of those lovely-type-people you stay in touch with.

She asked if we (my family and I) might be interested in being filmed for some content for The Specials website. They were interested in representing a different part of the Down’s Syndrome journey – the early part with a little one like Audrey.

Of course I said yes, I am always thrilled at the prospect of showing off Audrey and reaching people with our story – showing what life is like.

Katy started filming us the summer Audrey turned 2 and continued into the winter when I was heavily pregnant with Rex.

I’m pleased to be able to share with you a short film that came from some of that filming: a project called “If I Could Go Back…” that has given a voice to a variety of parents of children with Down’s Syndrome, explaining what those early days are like and what we’d like to say to ourselves if we could go back…

Click here to view on YouTube

It’s a perfect film to share during Down’s Syndrome Awareness Month and one that I hope will be useful to new mothers, fathers, grandparents… basically anyone who fears what it might be like to have a child with Down’s Syndrome in their life. What we thought “then” and what we know “now” = just wow. I could literally talk all day about what I thought it would be like to have a child with Down’s Syndrome and what it is actually like.

Audrey makes me so happy, so proud and she continues to surprise me every day with what she is learning and has achieved. So different to the fear in my heart that moment I first looked at her face.

More links to come no doubt, but for now, I hope you enjoy this one, it’s certainly emotive!

Down’s Syndrome Awareness Month 2015

October is Down’s Syndrome Awareness Month. 

Sometimes I feel like I’m living DS awareness continually and I don’t need to highlight the month (I imagine friends and family thinking “Yawn. Yes, we know you have a kid with Down’s Syndrome, stop banging on about it!”), but then I realise it’s an opportunity not to be missed.

I’m always trying to raise awareness that Audrey is great and we are happy – that having a child with DS might not be what people expect. But I also realise that our reality with Audrey isn’t everyone’s reality of living with a child with DS. I’m still keen to spread awareness that she’s everything we hoped for and more, but for this month I’d like to teach people a few important things too. So I’m going to try to cover some topics that people commonly don’t know, questions we get asked or uncomfortable language people use without realising.

1). Language does matter.

When Audrey was first born, I thought people were being petty over “a baby with Down’s Syndrome” rather than a “Down’s Syndrome baby”. But as things have progressed, it does grate when that language comes up. You start to feel strongly that your child is just a human being who happens to have DS. They are not “Down’s Syndrome”, they have it. My mum in particular used to say “just because Audrey is Down’s…” And I had to correct her, because she isn’t “Down’s”, she’s Audrey! This is a tricky one, because I wouldn’t say “a person who is deaf”, I’d probably say “deaf person”, although I guess the preferred term now is “hearing impaired”?  So I understand it’s hard to get this language right and no one wants to feel all politically-correct-crazy. But do think before you speak if possible…

You wouldn’t expect it, but often other people with family members with DS are the worst. Just this week I’ve had someone say “I have one the same” (pointing at Audrey) and “My sister had a Down’s kid… They’re so loving, aren’t they?”. Yeesh. 

Oh and when you are referring to other children and discussing my child with DS, those other children are “typical” children, not “normal” children. Obviously it’s uncomfortable to imply Audrey is abnormal!

2). Different.

Children with Down’s Syndrome have lots in common, due to the condition (and I’m going to cover some of those things in this post), but they are all different. Just like typical people. Crazy, eh? People who have Down’s Syndrome are people. So they can be naughty, they can be into heavy metal or be gay – yep, just like typical people they all have different thoughts, feelings and interests. So they don’t all love cuddles (although luckily Audrey does, phew). 

Again, I might get asked “When do they expect her to walk?”, “Has anyone been able to give you an idea of how mentally able she’ll be?”. I appreciate the interest and I know people mean well, but unfortunately all we know in general is that she will be on a slower learning curve than typical kids, but even that could be smashed… Audrey was the first back to front roller in our group for example. But she’s 26 months old and still not walking, so how about we just see how she gets on and not over analyse, ok?

3). Low muscle tone. 

Now, this is something I had no idea about pre-Audrey. Babies with DS usually have low muscle tone, which means they are a bit “floppy”. This results in a delay in physical milestones such as sitting up unaided, crawling, walking and the issue also affects the muscles in the mouth (the tongue and palate etc), which also makes it trickier for speech development. This is a useful one for people to understand as it would be nice if it wasn’t a shock that Audrey still isn’t walking. I also think it’s useful to know it’s not that Audrey hasn’t figure out how to walk, it’s that she physically doesn’t have the muscle tone to stand and walk. She’ll get there, it’s just going to take some work. In the meantime, the bottom shuffle is epic.

4). Learning difficulties. 

Most people associate this with Down’s Syndrome. In general they will be a bit behind typical children, but beyond that we can’t predict how Audrey will progress with any more accuracy than you can decide at 2 years old if little Tarquin is going to be a brain surgeon. 

One good thing about a recognisable condition such as DS; there’s so much research and history, that professionals know what works in terms of teaching. Kids with Down’s Syndrome typically enjoy reading and are visual learners. I’m told by Audrey’s special educational needs practicitioner that many children with DS start school ahead of their typical peers in terms of literacy, as they will have had so much focus and attention on that area and generally respond well to books.

I feel like I’ve gone from worrying about Audrey’s academic future, to feeling excited by it!

5). Being Mongolian.

The Mongolian thing just amuses me. Not long after Audrey was born, I looked up the term “mong” because I remembered it as a derogatory term used in playgrounds when I was younger. I knew this was a term used for people with Down’s Syndrome, but I didn’t know why. When I found out why, I just thought it was ridiculous. John Langdon Down (the man who first classified the syndrome, finding the shared characteristics), thought that people with DS looked like the Mongolian race due to a similar physical appearance and labelled them “Mongoloids”. It just feels a bit ridiculous now, “Ooh you look a bit Mongolian…”. Clearly, the term moved on from a classification to become a term of derision and abuse and I would be appalled if anyone called Audrey a “mong”, so please don’t take any of this the wrong way.

Ted and I have often joked that our genes plus a dash of Mongolian = one beautiful baby. The Mongolians should be flattered.

So what are these exotic features… Well, it’s almond shaped eyes, a button nose (sometimes quite flat), the crease under the eyes and small ears. Possibly also the fact that people with DS are generally quite short, with shorter limbs? 

Poor Audrey, Daddy’s not exactly a giant, but I’ve got serious shorties on my side, so she was never going to compete with Naomi Campbell on height. My mother is under 5 feet tall!

Anyway, I’m going to leave it there for this post. I hope some of it it was useful/interesting… But if you take anything away from Down Syndrome Awareness Month, let it be this; people with DS are similar in some ways, just like the human race is, but they are also individuals. We never know what to attribute Audrey’s qualities to. Is it because she’s;

A girl?

A child with Down’s Syndrome?

Our child?

Her own person?

A 2 year old?

A Brightonian?

Influenced by nursery?

Nature nurture blah blah blah… She’s just Audrey.


Spread a message with more ups than downs..?

Hayley from Downs Side Up shared this article on Facebook;


It’s a piece by David M Perry and it’s about raising awareness of Down’s Syndrome through cute pictures and how that does little to dispel the “they’re such happy people” myth and also fails to help raise awareness of some of the real challenges people with DS face.

Ok, so I couldn’t stop thinking about this article because I am 100% a spreader of this “cuteness porn”, but I have no desire to spread a message of sunshine, lollipops and rainbows… In fact my mother actually bought a t-shirt for Audrey when she was first born that said “Smile and be happy” on it and I absolutely lost the plot (hormones!) and made her take it back. I couldn’t think of anything worse for any child to wear (mega cheesy), but even more against it for Audrey – she’s not a poster girl for a constant cheerful disposition!

The thing is, what I think new-mums are looking for, and what I know I was/am looking for, is “inspiration porn”. All I wanted to see (and mostly still do) is that children with DS functioned happily in ‘normal’ families. Actually, no, better than that; I want to see glamorous families! Trendy families! Rock n roll!

I appreciate that it is important to spread a message to the world that people with DS are complex and emotional, that they have sad days, bad times, struggles… but that’s not necessarily the best starting point for awareness.

The leaflet I was passed when Audrey was born had that piece about Holland in it (which was actually lovely) and a lot of overwhelming health issue stuff that I just didn’t want to think about. I still don’t.

Awareness needs to be spread to;

New mums and dads
Prospective mums and dads
Parents of children your kid will go to school with
That person you pass on the street
Ok, basically everyone.

They need to know that someone with DS is loved by a family of ‘typical’ people and that they aren’t scary or ugly… That they aren’t an alien race of beings… They are human and they fit into families of all shapes and sizes and do ‘normal’ things. They need to feel comfortable around someone with DS and this should lead to better job opportunities, inclusion and understanding.

Personally I don’t think the cuteness factor takes away from the bigger issues… It can be used as a tool to lure people in to find out more, surely? Every mum I follow on Instagram will have lured me in with a cute baby video or picture, but that’s just one part of their story and soon I’m following them through operations, sleep studies, second babies, sleepless nights, developmental milestones… We all share in the frustrations and the achievements, the ups and the downs. I know I’m seeking this stuff out, but anyone could be struck by a cute image or video and end up finding out more.

Macy Makes My Day (check them out on Instagram), is about a little girl with DS and her family… I found this account after a friend told me about this amazing inspirational family and what a cool account it was (the friend had no connection to the DS community, but was following Macy’s story). After following Macy, I found the DS hashtags that led me to countless blogs and IG accounts, all of which have taught me a lot about Down’s Syndrome, the good stuff and the bad.

Phew. I feel a bit better now I’ve got that off my chest.

Please excuse me whilst I spread some more cuteness for #DSAM2014