People with Down syndrome excel like everyone else
The UN estimates that worldwide, every year between 3,000 and 5,000 children are born with Down syndrome, a genetic condition that develops when a child is born with an extra chromosome. This is caused by abnormal cell division during the development of the sperm or egg. According to childrenshospital.org, the extra chromosome affects the development of the child’s brain and body, leading to developmental delays, intellectual disability and an increased risk of certain medical problems.
Andrew Romero has been an instructor at the Lady Hochoy Vocational Center in Port of Spain for the past 11 years and has interacted with many children and adults with Down syndrome. The center caters to people with special needs aged 16 and over and offers courses in areas such as computer literacy, carpentry, arts and crafts, sewing and hairdressing .
He told Newsday that even though people with Down syndrome live with a developmental disability, they are just as capable of making a valuable contribution to their communities and nation as anyone else.
“I always see my students as people who can make a significant contribution to society. Their capacity may be a bit limited, but they should be given a chance. I know they can excel in different areas of work if given the opportunity, whether in the private or public sector. They have to live like anyone else.
There are three types of Down syndrome:
• Trisomy 21 is the most common type and occurs when every cell in the body has three copies of chromosome 21 instead of two.
• Down translocation syndrome develops when each cell has part of an extra chromosome 21, or an entirely extra chromosome attached to another chromosome instead of being isolated.
• Mosaic Down syndrome, the rarest type, occurs when only certain cells have an extra chromosome 21.
Romero said that because his students are usually at different levels of the disorder, it can sometimes be difficult to work with them. But seeing them improve in everything they do is always very rewarding.
“I love working with them. Some of them are very slow and some work very well. Most of them always need your full attention, but they all have the ability to learn, even if it’s at a different pace.
He said that in addition to learning new skills at the center, students are encouraged to monetize those skills and become as independent as possible despite their limitations.
“We also bottle and label the peanuts and sell them to grocery stores. It’s a big source of income for the school. Also, they sell their works of art, what they make in carpentry workshops, renovate old furniture, they recover glass bottles and resell them. Before covid they were very busy.
Romero only teaches the boys and said that since it’s a small group, he’s able to give them all the attention they need. He said currently the student population is around 71% due to covid19 restrictions. Some students take classes in person, some work online, and some receive packages so they can do the work from home.
The online experience, he said, was a bit difficult for many of them because although they received tablets, some of them were not very tech savvy. , while others simply struggled to stay focused.
“Some of them tend to lean towards technology and show a lot of interest in the programs, but there are some who can’t do it so much. If it’s a program they like, fine. But if they don’t like it, they lose focus very quickly. What I do is start with a game before going to the educational program. I mix things up a bit because of their attention spans.
Romero said what he’s noticed with the majority of them over the years is that they really enjoy physical activities.
“They love the exercise programs in the gymnasium and before covid19 when they used to get together in the yard and do aerobic workouts…Every year, various specialist schools have participated in the Special Olympics, and our students look forward to the workouts. training leading up to this event. Some of them even went overseas and won medals. It was a big thing for them before covid. They were always ready to participate.
He said another activity they look forward to is participating in the children’s carnival.
“Hopefully next year they can pick that up again.”
Next term, he said, there are plans to fully reopen the center and involve students in more activities that will help them develop their skills to continue making their own special contributions to society.