A few years ago, I became a special needs mom. Now I view life through different lens. Though I understand one category of special needs, I do not understand the challenges other families face. Recently, I had a chance to chat with Karin, a single mom of three whose middle child is a boy with Down syndrome. I enjoyed learning more about the issues her family faces. It was also heartening to know that, despite different challenges, all special needs moms deal with many of the same things and can encourage each other regardless of diagnoses.

A Little about Down Syndrome

I’d venture to guess most of us know that the challenges of Down syndrome come from an extra chromosome. We recognize the difference in facial features, stature, and voice, but probably know little else. I don’t have room for a full workshop on Down syndrome here, but I can share with you a few things I learned.

Karin shared that because of their flatter facial structure, kids with Down syndrome get a lot of sinus infections and similar illnesses. They also tend to have a weaker immune system. Because of this, recovery takes longer when they get sick. Down syndrome kids have a higher rate of leukemia compared to other demographics.

Kids with Down syndrome also face cognitive and speech delays. At six, Karin’s son is still mostly non-verbal. Children with Down syndrome also have low muscle tone. Low muscle tone affects basically all motor skills, both fine and gross. These children may require more time to get out their words or accomplish a task, among other things.

Karin said many children with Down syndrome share a mischievous bent, including her son Ryan. He’s also an escape artist, requiring constant supervision. Not only will he run away, but he will run toward danger without realizing it. Even with all of the challenges he faces, Karin said one thing she’d like to tell people is that Ryan is more like other children than he’s different.

Abortion and Down Syndrome

If you do a Google search for abortion statistics of Down syndrome babies, you will discover that the abortion rates are disconcertingly high. On average, the rate is around fifty percent, which is alarming enough. However, when you consider pregnant women who are told their babies have Down syndrome, the statistic skyrockets to 80% on the low side and over 95% in some population areas.

I asked Karin if she’d ever met a pregnant mom who had been told her child had Down syndrome. Karin had not, but said if she were to meet a woman in that situation, she’d invite her to meet Ryan. She’d explain that Ryan has happy times and sad times. He gets frustrated and excited. Ryan and all his friends with Down syndrome are kids first.

After the Diagnosis

Doctors told Karin Ryan’s diagnosis at birth. Though Karin loves her son fiercely like mothers do, there are still times of grief. Special needs parents grieve the loss of the child and life they expected. Karin says she went through the typical stages of grief from denial to acceptance, but sadness sometimes still surprises her. These moments often come when she observes Ryan around other children his age. Watching other six-year-olds play reminds her of the reality of Down syndrome’s challenges.

What has helped Karin cope? In the beginning, she did a lot of research to learn about Down syndrome—what she and Ryan would face and how she could help him. The National Down Syndrome Society was a great source of information. Karin looks to God for strength and frequently reminds herself that Psalm 139:14 (“I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”) applies to Ryan just as much as any other child. She also finds refuge in encouraging music.