Dealing with Down syndrome

There are more than 100 families with children with Down syndrome in southern Oregon, according to Joyce Rogers, projects director of the Down Syndrome Association of Southern Oregon, a nonprofit located in Medford that offers outreach, support, education and more to families affected by Down syndrome.

Rogers herself is part of one such family. A mother of two, she was 21 when her now 10-year-old daughter was born with Down syndrome. Ariel, who had open-heart surgery at 6 months old, is an exuberant, outgoing girl who plays soccer, practices scootering and has her own battery-powered ATV. She has the same likes and dislikes of any other 10-year-old at Patrick Elementary School in Gold Hill, Rogers says. On the door of Ariel's bedroom hangs a picture of Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) from "High School Musical."

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On the door of Ariel’s bedroom hangs a picture of Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) from “High School Musical.”

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"He's my boy!" Ariel said, giving the door a surreptitious hug when her mother isn't looking.

Common Misconceptions

The Rogers' experience underscores two little-known facts about Down syndrome, which is caused by a cell division error, usually at the time of conception:

- Although Down syndrome gets more common with advanced maternal age, 80 percent of children with Down syndrome are born to mothers under 35, according to the National Down Syndrome Association.

- People with Down syndrome are more like people who don't have Down syndrome than they are different.

"The kids are so different from what everybody perceives them to be," said Don Azar, the president of the DSASO's Board of Directors, whose 21-year-old stepdaughter, April Seibert, has Down syndrome. "We know them in a way that others don't know them, and we'd like others to know them in the same way."

"We experience people falling in love with her wherever we go," Rogers said. "Ariel's got a bubbly personality, she's a little social queen Kids are different. Regardless of their abilities, every child's different. That's the same thing with Down syndrome."

The association advocates inclusion for children and adults with Down syndrome and invites anyone &

not just families with special needs &

to participate in social events and their innovative reading program.

The program, called Reading About Me!, helps children learn by personalizing their reading booklets. If a child is learning the word "mom," for instance, there will be a picture of his own mom in the book.

April Seibert likes to read. She knows the words to hundreds of musicals, is co-writing a play about kittens and unicorns with her mom (they've already drawn a banner for it which hangs in April's room), sings show tunes to accompany her dad on the piano, and works part-time at Cropper Medical in Ashland.

Inclusion works both ways, says April's mom, Sally Seibert. As much as DSASO works to make Down syndrome children welcome in all aspects of southern Oregon society, it's important for people with children who don't have special needs to reciprocate invitations and take the time to get to know those with special needs.

Two popular upcoming community events sponsored by the DSASO are a potluck picnic at the train park in Medford on June 14 from noon to — p.m. and the annual Buddy Walk on Oct. 4.

For more information, see DSASO's Web site, .

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Sally Seibert shares a moment at home with her 21-year-old daughter, April Seibert, who has Down syndrome.

— | For the Tidings

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