Paso del Norte Children’s Development Center Celebrates, Educates on World Down Syndrome Day

Sara Walker is a happy, friendly and determined young girl who loves climbing, playing and singing songs.  The 4-year-old loves to do gymnastics and likes showing everyone how she knows her ABCs.  She also has Down Syndrome.

Sara’s mom, Belinda, says she and her husband Jeff found out Sara had Down Syndrome while she was pregnant.

“When we got the results of the blood test letting us know with 99 percent certainty that she would have Down Syndrome, I was just devastated,” said Belinda. “I just didn’t know how to process that information. I was in a funk for about 24 hours. Then I reached out a friend of ours who had a child with Down Syndrome and the first thing she said was, ‘Congratulations.’”

While the response may have come as a surprise at the time, Belinda says she know completely understands the reaction.

“Oh my goodness,” she said, tearing up. “Sara is the best thing that ever happened to me – to us. Just the way she is.”

As March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day, Belinda says they use the day as a way to educate the community about Down Syndrome and what it means for Sara and others like her.

The awareness day is celebrated each year on March 21, meant to represent the occurrence of a third copy of the 21st chromosome that results in Down Syndrome.

The symbolism of socks at the event is to illustrate the beauty of diversity, said Natalie Eckberg, Fund Development Officer for the Paso del Norte Children’s Development Center, a nonprofit serving children with special needs and their families.

At the Center, services include childcare, parent education, respite care, pediatric therapy and more.

“We are asking members of the community to join us,” said Eckberg. “Our goal is to bring the community together to celebrate what we consider to be a day of acceptance and inclusion. People with Down Syndrome can bring so much to the community. As a society, it is up to us to showcase their abilities and create meaningful opportunities for these individuals.”

At the Center, Sara is enrolled in the agency’s childcare program and speech and language pathology services. Previously, the family received Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) through the organization. Early Childhood Intervention or ECI provides pediatric developmental and therapy services for babies and toddlers birth up to the age of 3 years.

Sara has thrived, Belinda says, in large part because of the services received by the organization as well as the family’s commitment to focus on her abilities and the progress she was making.

“We have never treated her any differently,” she said. “She’s my baby and I coddle her and hold her but we expect her to clean up her messes like any other child. Since the beginning, we’ve given her a strong foundation of being treated like any other child. Sara loves to climb and play.

She always has more songs she wants to sing. Every day her words are clearer. She’s surpassed all of our expectations. We’ve never treated her differently, and I think that has a lot to do with her resilience.”

Belinda says this World Down Syndrome Day she would love more people to realize that Down Syndrome isn’t something to be scared of.

“People with Down Syndrome are not any different than you or me,” said Walker. “They want to be accepted and loved and treated no differently. They can do anything. Sara can do anything she can put her mind to. And that’s typical of children with Down Syndrome. They just want to succeed.”

To celebrate World Down Syndrome Day, the Walkers wore their crazy socks.

“We have photos from each year of our feet in the socks,” said Walker, who is also involved with the Down Syndrome Coalition of El Paso and Gigi’s Playhouse.

“We love doing it. The point of the day is to spread awareness about acceptance and inclusion for people with Down Syndrome. Her father and I have t-shirts that say: ‘We wouldn’t change you for the world, but we will change the world for you.’ And we are going to keep working towards that. Because that’s what Sara and all other people with Down Syndrome deserve – a better world.”

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