Sunday, October 22, 2017

Olympic medallist: Don't let Down Syndrome keep you down

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"UPBEAT": Down Syndrome self-advocate, American Karen Gaffney, addresses participants who attended the second annual World Down Syndrome Day Conference, hosted by the Down Syndrome Family Network (DSFN), at Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain yesterday. —Photo: JERMAINE CRUICKSHANK

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DON'T let Down Syndrome keep you down was the advice to children with the genetic condition by two-time United States Special Olympic gold medallist Karen Gaffney.

Gaffney, from Portland, Oregon in the US, delivered the feature address at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Port of Spain yesterday during a conference commemorating World Down Syndrome Day, hosted by the Down Syndrome Family Network.

Gaffney said she did not have Down Syndrome but "Up" Syndrome which was how her mother jokingly described her bubbly persona.

During her feature address, Gaffney, an open-water swimmer and president of the Karen Gaffney Foundation, said Down Syndrome was not a reason to limit one's self, but encouraged those gathered to raise the standard so the future generation of people with the genetic disorder would have something to look up to and eventually surpass.

The 36-year-old told the audience they should challenge themselves.

She added that the word "down" should not be used for those with Down Syndrome as it carried a sense of sadness and instead should be used to end things such as pollution and violence.

"We are here and we belong," Gaffney told the gathering, which included speech therapists, physical therapists and members of the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex dental department who care for special needs children.

During the workshop, entitled "More than just talk", speech therapist Keisha Lindsay said the education system in Trinidad and Tobago needed to be reviewed so that it provided for a more inclusive atmosphere.

Lindsay snipped at the recently-concluded Government-organised Hoop of Life basketball tournament, saying money should be spent teaching children to read rather than going towards playing basketball.

She said stakeholders and parents should lobby to have inclusion in the school system and, by extension, the nation.

During a question and answer session with parents, Lindsay said there was no stipulated age at which someone with Down Syndrome would master the art of speech.

She told concerned parents it was a matter of practice and the sooner the better.