SOUTH CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – At the South Charleston Enrichment Center, two-year-old Nate plays with two friends at a sensory station built just for him.
Nate has Down syndrome, a genetic disorder caused by abnormal cell division, but the other boys don’t treat him any differently.
Neither does his adoptive mother Danielle Ellis, who adopted him after his diagnosis.
“I haven’t noticed I’m raising a disabled child,” said Ellis.
It’s why she has taken to social media since the beginning of October for Down Syndrome Awareness Month to post almost daily about her experience raising Nate.
“The biggest I guess stigma is the ‘he can’t’, and a lot of people will assume they can limit a person with Down syndrome and now with early intervention therapy, these kids are growing up, they’re getting jobs, they’re getting married,” she said.
Through early intervention therapy, Nate learned to walk.
Even though Down syndrome can cause developmental and learning delays, he’s now climbing playground equipment along with the rest of the children at the daycare.
His therapist Katie Arbaugh says inclusion is important for both children with special needs and those without.
“It’s ok that somebody moves their body differently and it’s ok that somebody learns differently and we should encourage children if they have questions to ask; we don’t have to whisper or ask those questions later,” said Arbaugh.
Ellis says her biggest wish for Nate is for people to make space for him and for Nate to grow up happy.
Her biggest advice for new mothers of children with Down syndrome is to find community the way she has online with a group that calls themselves the ‘rockin’ moms’ because their children are rocking an extra chromosome.
“Their message is to try and change the way that doctors deliver a Down syndrome diagnosis, instead of saying ‘we’re sorry your child has Down syndrome,’ we’re asking that doctors specifically say ‘congratulations, your baby has Down syndrome and you’re going to have a wonderful life with that child.'”