Down Syndrome Is Not A Barrier To Success
My son was born on June 21st, and I was given a month to go over what history the Social Workers had to decide if, as a single parent, I could meet his needs. Then I was given one more month to get ready for this beautiful baby. No nine months of preparation for me.
On August 16, 1993, the Social Worker placed my son in my arms. I had been waiting 6 years to adopt a child and with my history of being a nurse, the fact that he had Down Syndrome did not make any difference to me, even though I would be a single mother.
I named him David Spence Cheyne. Spence was my father’s middle name, and David meant “gift from God”, which to me, he was.
This is our story.
Our Difficult Journey
Three months after David joined me he underwent what should have been a minor surgery. When they tried to take him off the oxygen in the recovery room, we discovered he was hypoxemic (lacking oxygen) and probably had been since birth. That day I made a promise to my son that no matter what the future held, David and I were a team... we would deal with it together.
That day started a journey for us, one that I hadn't expected when I held him in my arms for the first time. But I knew I was given this challenge because I was strong enough and because I had so much love to give this little boy.
David needed oxygen use 24 hrs a day for a year, frequent hospitalizations in “Dr. Goodbear’s House” (two of which resulted in him being on life support), and the inability to travel further than 30 minutes outside of the city in case he had a medical emergency. Then finally just before his 4th birthday, David was diagnosed with severe obstructive sleep apnea. Though he will never able to sleep for more than an hour without his CPAP machine, his life has improved significantly. We've even traveled internationally!
From the beginning, I have treated David like any other child, especially when it came to learning. I have always placed expectations on him to succeed and Down Syndrome was not an excuse to coddle him or let the system fail him.
There was one instance where he was doing well in school with spelling, so I tried supplementing his learning at home. The “experts” told me I may be setting unrealistic expectations on him and setting him up for failure. I thought to myself: “What would a parent with a child who does not have Down Syndrome do?” … so I ignored the experts. My son can spell at a grade 5 level and loves playing “spelling games”; he goes around the house challenging himself to spell words. He loves to read, and we still work on his vocabulary. For example, David knows the difference between an overpass and a bridge. When asked why teaching him these things is important, I simply answer: “You know the difference, why shouldn’t he?”
The rule in our house, and what I consider our “secret”, is the way I (and others should) view my son. I have a son who loves cooking, nature, animals, reading, dancing, Glee, Big Brother, and of course, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Oh, and by the way, he has Down Syndrome. He is capable of learning anything, doing anything, and being anything; it might just take him longer.
Success In Sport
Why am I telling you all of this? Because many people took one look at him and decided because of his Down Syndrome, he would never be able to live a full and meaningful life, much less succeed in anything. Clearly, they were wrong. David and I were determined to show the world that despite his disability, he was capable.
When David was 3, I watched a TV show about Special Olympics and thought that sounded like a great organization, so I signed him up. Since then, David has participated and competed in multi-sport clubs, soccer, snowshoe, swimming, bowling, and bocce. Here we are, 24 years later, and Special Olympics allows him to be the best version of himself. The support, encouragement, and sense of belonging he gets from being in Special Olympics allows him to reach heights he would not be able to otherwise. He has twice gone to Nationals in two different sports.
In 2012, I watched my son climb the podium in St Albert, AB where they placed a silver medal around his neck. In that moment, I thought of all those “experts” that spent my son’s developing years telling me what my son couldn’t do and what he never would be able to do. He sure showed them!
Special Olympics Manitoba has opened so many doors for my son, and I consider it an absolute privilege to call myself a Provincial Office staff member. This organization is so near and dear to my heart, and I am so proud of the opportunities we provide for athletes like my son to succeed. We help to show the world that intellectual disabilities like Down Syndrome are not a barrier to success.
So when I answer the phone at the Special Olympics Manitoba Provincial Office, I'm not only representing our organization, but I'm speaking from the heart - I am first and foremost an athlete's proud mom.
David's life was changed when he started participating in Special Olympics, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Special Olympics Manitoba (SOM) was forced to suspend all in-person sport programing and competitions for our athletes, and that has been devastating. David is anxiously awaiting the day when he can Return to Play and regain his sense of belonging, success, and acceptance.
To learn how you can help our athlete's Return To Play in a safe and secure environment, please visit returntoplay.info or consider purchasing a 50/50 Raffle Ticket in support of athlete's like David across the province at somraffle.ca.