GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan is continuing its annual tradition of celebrating and raising awareness on World Down Syndrome Day.
Down syndrome is genetic and continues to be the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 6,000 babies are born with Down syndrome each year, which is about 1 in every 700 babies born.
The condition occurs when an person has three, rather than two copies of the 21st chromosome. The additional genetic material alters the course of development and causes the characteristics associated with Down syndrome.
WDSD takes place annually on the 21st day of the 3rd month, to signify the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome.
“Sunday is just a day of awareness about people who have Down syndrome. It’s an advocacy and really just to get the word out. What we do here at the Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan is let families know that we’re here and we’re here to help,” Jennifer DeVault, executive director of the association, said.
Typically, the organization hosts a large dance party event called Rock Your Socks. Organizers were forced to cancel last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but this year, they’re hosting it virtually.
The event will take place Sunday from 2-3 p.m. and is open to everyone. It will feature live performances, music and dancing, sing-alongs, bingo, prizes and more.
Amy Wigger, a mother who’s been involved with the association for eight years, says the support has made a big impact on her family’s life.
“It’s kind of scary when you receive a birth diagnosis and you don’t know any of the information. You’re given the medical diagnosis, but you don’t know the amazing possibilities that your child has. It seems really scary at first, but to hear other parents tell you what their child’s doing and the possibilities that exist within the community and within the future for your child is really important,” she said.
Her advice for other children and parents is don’t be afraid to ask questions.
“I think when we make it into a big deal, when we tell kids not to look, not to stare, not to ask — it makes it scary. My first advice is always just say hello and if you have a question, ask because everyone’s different. Typical kids are different than other typical kids. Kids with disabilities are different than other kids with disabilities. You don’t know, and until you ask, you won’t know. So ask, be friends, be friendly and say hello.”
The DSAWM has been working to keep people engaged throughout the pandemic, hosting virtual programs almost every day.
“We have a fantastic program director,” DeVault said. “We have singalongs, we still are doing our cooking capers — which teaches our members to be more independent, to be able to cook in the kitchen — book club. This summer, we’re hoping to be able to do some outside programs, do some camps right here at the youth inclusion center. So that’s really exciting.”
In addition to the Rock yYur Socks event, the association has two fundraisers going on this month.
Penn Station East Coast Subs is doing a round-up campaign through March 21. Customers can round-up their total on each visit, which is donated to organizations to help with resources, education, support, camps and other initiatives for those in need.
The second is a partnership with Stir It Up. The bakery created cookie boxes and will donate 15% of all proceeds to the Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan.
Another thing people can do to raise awareness about WDSD is wear mismatched colorful socks. DeVault encourages people to take a photo of their mismatched socks and tag the association so that they can post them.
“That’s a really good way to get people and get the awareness out is to wear different colored socks and then when people ask you about it … it’s kind of a conversation starter.”