An article about Stephanie Meredith appeared in a recent issue of the Brigham Young University magazine, in a feature that recognized the service of one graduate in each of the 50 states. Since October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, we asked Stephanie to share her story.
When my husband and I found out that our son Andy was born with Down syndrome 18 years ago, we were overwhelmed 23-year-olds who were worried about the future ahead of us. We wondered: Would people be kind to Andy? Would he be able to go to college or work or get married someday?
We had so many concerns, and we were so fortunate that the day after our son was born, a woman who worked at the hospital showed us a photo of her son with Down syndrome and gave us a book. She helped us see that life could be happy and fun with our new baby.
Unfortunately, we found out later that many other parents learning about the same diagnosis were not receiving the same kind of support and information. They often were given outdated or inaccurate information.
Since that time, I’ve worked to provide support for new and expectant parents and create accurate, up-to-date Down syndrome materials, which can be found at our National Center for Prenatal and Postnatal Resources where I work, at the University of Kentucky (Lettercase.org and downsyndromepregnancy.org). Our program has helped tens of thousands of families over the past decade to see what life with Down syndrome and other conditions looks like.
Over a year ago, our son said he wanted to work at Publix, and took off on his bike to go apply for a job while I was cooking dinner. When I realized he’d left, I drove off in a panic to go pick him up. While I was driving, my husband called and cut through my frantic haze saying, “Could you have imagined when he was born that our biggest challenge at 16 would be that he took off on his own to go apply for a job?”
Indeed. Publix was so impressed with his initiative that he was hired shortly thereafter, and I’m so proud of my teen son, who has worked for over a year, earned his Eagle Scout from Troop 50 of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, goes to every school and church dance with a wonderful crew of friends, and plans on going to a Kennesaw State University program for students with disabilities after he graduates from Woodstock High School in 2019. Our life truly is fun with all three of our children, and we are dedicated to supporting other families just beginning their journey.
– Stephanie Meredith
3 Ways to Value People With Down Syndrome
1. If you know parents who have a baby with Down syndrome, tell them, “Congratulations,” and offer to listen. Never say, “I’m sorry.”
2. People with Down syndrome want friends and relationships, just like everyone else. So, invite our children over for parties, play dates and library field trips to start friendships that last a lifetime. These relationships can be meaningful and fulfilling on both sides.
3. Be understanding about challenges, and encourage people with Down syndrome to reach their potential. Take the time to listen, teach and be patient, then sincerely congratulate their achievements and nurture their talents.
Top 3 Truths About Down Syndrome
1. People with Down syndrome are individuals with their own strengths and challenges, like everyone else. Andy is an amazing photographer and bike rider, but reading and math are harder for him. Others of his friends with Down syndrome are reading at grade level but may struggle with speech. One thing they have in common is that opportunities continue to improve for all of them.
2. Most parents and siblings of children with Down syndrome say their children have a positive impact on their entire family and increase their empathy for others.
3. People with Down syndrome can have bright futures, including meaningful employment, college and marriage, when given opportunities and supports.
Stephanie Meredith recommends the following groups for support.
Gigi’s Playhouse in Atlanta, Roswell: https://gigisplayhouse.org/atlanta
Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta: http://www.dsaatl.org
Parent to Parent of Georgia: http://p2pga.org
There are more than 200,000 people living with Down syndrome in the U.S., and about 5,000 babies are born with Down syndrome each year, according to Meredith, who points to www.downsyndromeinfo.org for more details.
“Our national program that supports new and expectant parents learning about a diagnosis of Down syndrome is the National Center for Prenatal and Postnatal Resources at lettercase.org and downsyndromepregnancy.org.
“Based on a population of about 247,000 and an occurrence rate of about 1:800, there are probably about 300 people with Down syndrome in Cherokee County, but we don’t have solid numbers on that. The Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta has a community group in Cherokee County; Gigi’s Playhouse has a center in Roswell; and FOCUS (Families of Children Under Stress) has a Woodstock support group for parents (https://focus-ga.org/how-focus-can-help-you/comfort/support-groups).”