Christy De Souza, at four feet and seven inches tall, is a little lady with big dreams. Her quick wit, engaging smile and eagerness to learn almost negate the fact that she has Down’s syndrome, also called Down syndrome.
A chromosomal condition that she has had since birth, De Souza has been able to rise above her limitations and become a shining example for all persons with disabilities.
At 23, De Souza is bursting at the seams to experience all that life has to offer. With the hope to travel and see the world one day; get her driver’s licence and own her own home, De Souza is fiercely independent.
Instead of waiting for others to do things for her; she prefers to get up and do it herself. With a passion for music and dance, De Souza says she is just like everybody else. She recently joined a hip-hop class and is gradually learning all of the steps; she says it’s fun.
According to Laura Cotton, director of the Down Syndrome Family Network, De Souza is the first Trinidadian with Down’s syndrome to actively advocate for others with the same disability.
De Souza recently copped the Personal Triumph Award at the National Youth Awards held late last month. An award that signifies overcoming difficulties such as family circumstances, geographical location, health, disability to make an important contribution to society or is an inspirational role model to others.
Dressed in a sharp black suit, De Souza had an air of confidence during her interview with the Express recently. Her hair was cut in a stylish bob that complemented her face as she chatted about her family, friends and her expectations of the future.
“People always ask me what is it like to have Down syndrome and I usually say to them pretty normal,” she said.
De Souza for the past 22 years never knew she had Down’s syndrome until recently.
“Though it may be hard for some people to believe, it is true,” said De Souza’s mom, Josanne.
Remembering the moment when De Souza was born, she said, “Christy was born August 14, 1990. My husband and I were expecting a normal baby because in those days there was not much being said about Down syndrome.”
“When she was born it flashed through my mind that something was not right when I saw her face, however as soon as it flashed through my mind it went out again completely,” she said.
De Souza was the first child for the couple. Focusing on the joys of motherhood, Josanne was excited about her new baby. She noted that the doctor, who delivered De Souza, brought a paediatrician to see her to make sure everything was all right.
“That was when the paediatrician diagnosed her with Down syndrome. At that moment I don’t recall what the doctors told me, however, from the time of diagnoses, all I could hear is she couldn’t do this and she couldn’t do that. It was more about the limitations than anything else, however, they kept telling me she would be able to do stuff but at a slower pace. There was no hope she would amount to anything much but living and breathing. As parents we were totally devastated since we did not expect this for our first baby,” she said.
With no idea what her next step would be De Souza’s mom prayed and asked God for guidance.
She said, “The next day when I got up, I felt relieved. God had given me a message - he said, “Treat Christy like any other child and everything will be all right.”
“From the time she was born until now, I have always treated Christy like any other child. She went to a normal school; had friends and was treated like everybody else. Since it did not have any other children with Down syndrome at the school, Christy never felt any different,” she added.
“At an early age, I sent her for speech therapy and the constant interaction with her peers is the reason why she could communicate so well,” she said.
Currently, De Souza works full time at Little Flower Montessori School, a private school in Petit Valley and the same school she attended when she was younger. She helps children with their school activities daily, and proves to the upcoming generation, and their parents, that persons with Down’s Syndrome can lead productive lives.
De Souza has one brother and shared what it is like being the eldest.
“It rocks. It is nice to have my brother look up to me,” she said.
De Souza also helps train and coach other self-advocates at the Down Syndrome Family Network quarterly workshops. She is a registered member of the Down Syndrome Family Network and has also appeared on live television programmes, including the TV6 Morning Edition.
She said, “I want children with Down syndrome to be able to go normal schools. Just like what my mom did for me so they would be better adjusted to enter the world of work and be able to support themselves.”