In pro-life circles, October is known as Respect Life Month. Yet we know that respecting the life of every human being goes hand in hand with another celebration during the month of October, and that is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. According to the National Down Syndrome Society, Down Syndrome Awareness Month is “a month to raise awareness and celebrate the many abilities of our loved ones with Down syndrome . . . break down barriers, and focus on promoting advocacy for people with Down syndrome.”
In the US alone between 1995 and 2011, 67% of mothers whose babies were given a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome decided to abort the baby. Sadly, this number is higher in other countries.
Those in the Down syndrome community understand the inherent beauty of their children with DS. They don’t deny that medical or physical challenges can be difficult at times, but they see them as challenges to overcome rather than as reasons to abort.
Parents of children with DS understand the fear of the unknown, and this fear is compounded when they see the looks from doctors after receiving a prenatal diagnosis or when they receive advice—or even encouragement—to abort the baby. It’s hard to imagine that there are so many people out there who believe a child would be better off dead than born with Down syndrome, yet this is the reality we live in.
That is why there are so many organizations that want to show the world the beauty of people with Down syndrome. They want to support families, to walk with them on their journey, and to show the love and joy that children with DS bring to their families.
To help generate excitement for this special month, we want to share three special nonprofits with you, though we know there are countless more we could mention. These organizations were created by parents who want the world to know that an extra chromosome is not something to fear and that life with a child with Down syndrome is just as wonderful as life with any child.
Team Iron Will
Team Iron Will is a nonprofit started by the Daub family that has as its mission to help create “a world in which all human beings with Down syndrome are treated with respect, dignity, and love at every stage of life. A world where they are not required to prove their value, defend their existence, or fight for access to opportunity.”
Will was born with Down syndrome and faced many challenges, including heart problems, swallowing difficulties, infantile spasms, and partial hearing loss—all within his first year. They call him Iron Will because of his toughness and his resiliency. As the youngest of eight, Will is doted on and encouraged by his older siblings, and he has a never-ending supply of smiles and hugs for them all.
Because the family was blessed to have help with physical therapy equipment that helped improve Will’s low muscle tone, they want to pay it forward. So they started Team Iron Will to help others in the DS community acquire the necessary physical therapy equipment that they otherwise could not afford. As the Daubs say on the website: “We’re a family of 10. We love life, our family, and our faith. And we’re striving to make the world a better place. We all play a part in helping Will live his best life and reach his God-given potential. And we all play a part in Team Iron Will.”
In 2013, Carissa Carroll gave birth to a little boy named Jack. The family had not known prior to his birth that he would have Down syndrome, so they were shocked by the diagnosis. This shock was exacerbated by the fact that doctors and nurses did not celebrate his birth, as they did with other babies. The mood was somber and apologetic.
At first, Carissa and her husband had no idea what to expect, but she said that talking with people in the DS community helped immensely. Near Jack’s first birthday, she decided that she would not only serve as Jack’s advocate, but she would serve as an advocate for all babies born with DS.
Carissa began making baskets filled with baby goodies—toys, clothing, books, and a handwritten letter from her about Jack’s abilities—for families of children with DS. She took the baskets to hospitals and asked the nurses to give them to families who had just given birth to babies with Down syndrome. Jack’s Basket now distributes baskets to doctors’ offices, hospitals, and families throughout the US.
Down for Smiles
After a stint in the Marine Corps, Phillip Flores, a father to a beautiful young girl with Down syndrome, founded Down for Smiles in 2022. Flores now advocates for those in the Down syndrome community by taking free professional photos of children and their families. His nonprofit is focused on sharing the joy, the abilities, and the beauty of the DS community through photos.
In an NBC news report, Flores stated, “Our community is beautiful and it’s glorious and it deserves to be screamed from the mountaintops and celebrated.”
Flores’ pictures show the world the dignity and value of people with Down syndrome. And family members thrill at the opportunity to sit for a photo shoot as he takes professional photos in whatever venue the kids are comfortable in, whether that’s on the ball field, in a ballet studio, a playground, or even in a bakery. Parents and grandparents alike marvel at how their children react to the pictures, saying they give them confidence and boost their self-esteem. This is truly an amazing way to highlight how much these families have been blessed by their children.
Through the works and efforts of these phenomenal families, the world can see the beauty of people with Down syndrome. And that is what Down Syndrome Awareness Month is all about—helping people understand that an extra chromosome does not detract from life. It adds immense joy to it.
This article first appeared in the Catholic World Report at catholicworldreport.com/2023/09/29/down-syndrome-awareness-month-spreads-joy-and-hope.