Hi, everybody! My name is Lauren Ochalek. On March 21st, we're asking you to wear wacky socks observe World Down Syndrome Day. If you take a look around, I bet that some of you don’t see anybody wearing socks exactly like yours; as a matter of fact, yours may be totally different! I bet that most everybody's socks are very different, just like we all are as people - very different from one person to the next.
Now, about those words “Down syndrome.” Do you know what that is? Scientifically speaking, our chromosomes are actually what make up these differences and make us who we are - they are our super “genetic code.” My chromosomes give me blonde hair and hazel eyes, a size 10 foot (that’s huge, by the way), and freckles too. My chromosomes made math my least favorite subject in school and instilled in me a love of reading! Your special genetic code is not like anybody else’s - we’re all different and our differences are what make us unique! Look around you - no two people are alike!
Before you were born, your DNA, or genetic code, was formed with 46 chromosomes; 23 from your mother and 23 from your father. When somebody is born with Down syndrome, that simply means that they were born with an extra chromosome - meaning that they have 47 chromosomes in all. About every 1 in 700 babies is born with Down syndrome. It’s not an illness, a disease, something that you can “catch,” or something that you can take away - people with Down syndrome are just born that way - just like I was born with blonde hair and hazel eyes.
We celebrate World Down Syndrome Day on March 21st because people with Down syndrome have, specifically, a 3rd copy of their 21st chromosome. Today, on the calendar, is 3/21! Get it?
So what does having an extra chromosome mean? It means that for people with Down syndrome, they may have some unique medical needs like heart problems when they’re babies or hearing and vision problems; they may take longer to learn how to walk, run, or jump because of weak muscles throughout their bodies; they often have difficulty speaking clearly because that same lower muscle strength also makes their tongue have to work extra hard to form words; all of this muscle weakness actually means that they have to work twice as hard as you and I to keep up and THAT can be very exhausting. While learning can also be a challenge for some kids with Down syndrome, kids with Down syndrome *can* learn anything with a little extra help, time, patience, and a lot of extra practice. While some school subjects may be a little more difficult, others may be relatively easy - just like they are for other students.
What’s most important to know is that kids with Down syndrome are just like you and me! They are amazing friends, talented students, and super-star athletes.
They are kind, caring, funny, and so very smart. They have the same hopes and dreams as every other child; dreams of parties, sleepovers, lots and lots of time with friends, good grades, participation in sports and other activities, school dances, graduating from high school, college, getting married, and someday having a job where they too can make a positive impact in their community.
So what do we want everybody to learn from today? That we’re all different - just like all of our different mismatched socks - and kids with Down syndrome are more like you than not in so many ways. Our differences are what set us apart from one another, what makes us unique, and what makes us who we are. When we all accept one another’s differences and are kind to everyone, we are becoming world changers - changing the world to be a happier, kinder, more accepting place for everybody!
This is, Ellie, she is 7-years old and is in 1st grade. She is a daughter, sister, amazing friend, a swimmer, a dancer, a Girl Scout, a strong reader, a gifted speller, and loves math( though if you ask her though, she’ll tell you that her favorite subject is “recess”). She loves vanilla ice cream, time spent at the beach, ice skating, reading, roller coasters, kayaking, singing, dancing, and, most of all, spending time with friends.
Her favorite thing in the world is attending school with you, her friends, who love her and accept her for who she is! Thank you for being world changers by choosing to be kind when you interact with others. Remember, our differences are what make us unique and what makes the world a better, brighter place! Keep choosing kind and THANK YOU for wearing your wacky socks!
Lauren Ochalek - The IEP Coach has been a devoted and impassioned advocate for individuals with special needs, particularly Down syndrome, throughout the majority of her life. Raised alongside a dear friend with Down syndrome and trained as a pediatric nurse who would go on to care for children with disabilities, Lauren's heart has always beat for advocacy within the special needs community. Her life's mission was affirmed when, in 2012, her first child, Ellie, was, coincidentally, born with Down syndrome. "Lauren Ochalek - The IEP Coach" was founded in 2019 and was born from the heart. Lauren's mission is to "to help families as they navigate the special education system; to assist parents in developing an IEP for their child that includes a meaningful vision as it pertains to further education, employment, and independent living; and to advocate for and foster a culture of inclusion for all!" Contact Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org