My Son With Down Syndrome Inspires Me to Be a Better Mother

You know you’ve got a time management problem when you have three toothbrushes dotted around the house because when that five-minute window opens, you want to be ready, baby.

You tug on mismatched socks because your dryer is a power eater and the actual pairs are all buried somewhere in those overflowing laundry baskets teetering in the corner. “It’s not dirty enough not to wear” becomes your mantra. You don’t remember the last day you haven’t heard the washing machine running. At least it’s productive white noise.

And so you live. And you grow. And you thrive. And you teach.

And you mother.

Your kid has extra needs, and you fulfill them unflinchingly. It is mostly unnoticeable because you just do what you need to do. And you put yourself first only when you are falling. And you rarely fall because that very same kid lifts you and lifts you and lifts you. And he inspires you because that journey can be more difficult than it is for a typical kid. He inspires you because you can see him thinking and watch him when he’s pissed off that he’s failed at something. And then he goes back and frowns and grinds his teeth and tries again and again and again ’til he gets it right. And he always gets it right eventually.

He is so driven compared to other people, and so by all that is good and holy, he inspires you.

You know you own an iron but haven’t got a clue where it is. Truth be told, if you found it, you may think it better put to use as a door stop. Some part of you is always decorated with food anyway.

Every time you go clothes shopping, you end up with four new developmental toys for your son… and another toothbrush. Plus a few for him. Just because. Some of your clothes were bought in the ’90s.

You go out for a run to clear your head and find yourself practicing Makaton to your playlist. Even though it gets a bit weird when AC/DC comes on, this still makes you realize how much sign language you can pick up from television. And now you want to get home and practice with him. Maybe without the innuendo-laden hard rock, but still.

Because you live and you grow and you thrive when you mother. As you teach him, he teaches you. The love and the discipline, that greatest yin and yang of all, the give and take of this unwavering bond.

The fridge is packed with food for Captain Picky Eater, yet you and your husband are on your third takeaway of the week. “We’re out of Weetabix” becomes close to a national emergency. You have bananas in the house but dare not eat one, lest he run out. Same goes for yogurt. The thought that you should shop for yourself as well hasn’t crossed your mind in a few months. It usually only does become a thought a couple days before payday when you’re eyeing the ramen noodles at the back of the drawer because the takeaway funds have dried up.

You resolve on New Year’s Day that this year, I’ll get enough sleep. I’ll put him to bed and switch off the laptop and rest and rest and rest. But on day one, zero hour, you reach the bottom of the stairs and forget. And you Google, and you blog, and you read, and you shop. Then it’s 3 a.m. Then you hear him stir on the monitor and you stop everything to be sure he doesn’t require you. If he did, you’d leave everything cold and go sleep beside him until he dropped off again. Sometimes the stirring means a nappy change is in order. And you rush up to sort him out ASAP to ensure he can get a decent sleep. So you can get a decent sleep. And thank God he usually does sleep.

He is your world.

You are his mother.

You take care of yourself just enough to ensure you can help him soar. You lean on your spouse, your friends, your family for support when you need to switch off, but the fact remains — he is your world.

You wouldn’t trade him for anything. The only trade in is time for you, which you put aside because, frankly, he is entirely worth it. That he is a joy to be around is merely a bonus prize. Except when he is Captain Crabbo. Then you want him to go to sleep and leave your ears in peace for a while. And then you only go and miss him, Crabbo or not. You check on him in the night and you linger. Just to watch him sleeping, you linger. Even when you can at long last go to sleep…

You linger.

You look after yourself by measuring his progress today, since yesterday, and know you are doing a good job. This grows you.

You look after yourself by capturing joyful moments and knowing you are raising a happy boy. Your favorite pastime (aside from actually finding time to brush your teeth) is watching him think. You soar when he succeeds at anything those long-ago doctors told you, “He won’t…” Yes he bloody will. This grows you.

You look after yourself by marching with him to “The Grand Old Duke of York,” and “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” and the intro to “Gigglebiz”… hell, you march to the food chopper and the vacuum in this house. Anything and everything that makes him smile. You march for minutes, then hours, ’til your calves cramp and your feet ache and you can’t kick once more or your leg will actually fly off. He watches himself in the mirror marching, and you grin at him, “Good boy, look at you go!” and he grins back and launches those knees virtually to the ceiling, and you wish you had champagne to celebrate.

Alas, you grow tired of marching and sit. He complains.

You get up and march. Because.

The grand victory hidden in the minutiae. The leap masked in the small step. These all massage your mind. These all smooth the worry from your forehead. As he grows, so too do you.

He is your world. You are his mother.

Maxine's son at a water park
Maxine’s son at a water park

Follow this journey on Down In Front, Please.

Have you seen the first film with a national release to star a person with Down syndrome? Check out the film “Where Hope Grows” today!

Available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes.


Reality TV Star Under Fire for Meme of Girl With Down Syndrome

Valentin Chmerkovskiy, a dancer on the reality show “Dancing With the Stars,” has come under fire after posting a meme on his public Facebook page.

The meme read, “Letting your kid become obese should be considered child abuse,” and it showed a picture of a child who turns out to have Down syndrome.

Meme showing over-weight child drinking a soda.

Her name is Skylar and she’s from Robertson County, Tennessee. Her family found out about the meme after her sister Harley Eden saw it online and realized it was Skyler, WKRN News reported.

I couldn’t believe it when I saw it,” Harley Eden, Skyler’s sister, told the outlet. “[It]makes me wonder what kind of people are out there. It makes me sick.”

Adults with Down syndrome are more likely to be obese than those without the condition, according to the National Down Syndrome Society. It’s often the result of untreated hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone.

Chmerkovskiy’s post doesn’t mention Down syndrome at all. His caption read:

I am truly sorry for the lack of sensitivity… but on some level I have to agree. Raising a child is the hardest thing in the world, I know, but being negligent when it comes to their nutrition is a crime. The lifelong obstacles and health issues you place on your child because of it can be devastating moving forward in their life. You’re handicapping your kid, and they’re defenseless, they don’t know better, that’s why you’re there… anyway I’m just a childless preacher, but here’s some food for thought. #‎nopunintended

The Facebook post garnered hundreds of likes and shares but has since been removed.

The family doesn’t know who took the original picture of Skylar, but they believe it is from years ago when Skylar, who is now 16, was around nine or 10, WKRN News reported. Mitchell said her daughter has battled with her weight since the age of four and now attends a weight management clinic at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Get more on the story from the video below: 


The Mighty reached out to Chmerkovskiy for comment but are yet to hear back. 

Mom Designs Glasses for People With Down Syndrome

One mother in Burton, Ohio, turned her daughter’s need into a career helping others.

Erin Farragher, now 16, needed glasses when she was about 20 months old. Her mother, Maria Dellapina, set out right away to find the perfect pair but soon found conventional frame designs didn’t properly fit Erin, who has Down syndrome. People with the genetic condition often have unique facial features such as low nose bridges, small ears and wide temple areas.

Erin at Tina Brown's Women in the World Salon in San Antonio, where Toyota's Mother of Invention award was announced in December. Image courtesy of Maria Dellapina.
Erin at Tina Brown’s Women in the World Salon in San Antonio, where Toyota’s Mother of Invention award was announced in December. Image courtesy of Maria Dellapina.

“[Conventional glasses] would fall down her nose and just didn’t sit right on her face,” Dellapina told The Mighty. “She didn’t want to wear them.”

At the time, Dellapina had nearly 25 years of experience making glasses, dispensing frames and lenses and working as a frame buyer. Still, despite her connections in the industry, she just couldn’t find a pair she could alter to fit Erin, even after making extensive adjustments. So she began designing them herself. 

“It was very frustrating because I needed this for my daughter,” Dellapina told The Mighty, “and I knew I couldn’t be the only one.”

She wasn’t.

Dellapina started talking to other parents of children with Down syndrome and realized a real need existed for glasses that properly fit. But she couldn’t find a manufacturer willing to make her designs. As a single working mother with four kids, two of them toddlers, Dellapina had little time or money to invest into getting the frames made.

Dellapina with her 29-year-old son Anthony at a photo shoot for "Women in the World." Anthony is a special education teacher.
Dellapina with her 29-year-old son Anthony at a photo shoot for “Women in the World” in December. Anthony is a special education teacher. Image courtesy of Maria Dellapina.

Then, in 2007, Erin became ill after an ear infection turned into a dangerous infection further complicated by her allergies to antibiotics. Dellapina lost her job, and ultimately decided she had to work from home to take care of Erin. It was time to start the business.

She finally found a manufacturer in South Korea willing to make the glasses, and a friend lent her the money to for the first prototypes.

Dani Taraba, 9, models the Specs4us Erin's World Frame glass line, designed by Maria Dellapina.
Dani Taraba, 9, models the Specs4us Erin’s World Frame glass line, designed by Maria Dellapina. (Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer) Courtesy of

Fast forward eight years, and Dellapina runs Specs4Us, which stands for “Superior Precision Eyewear for Children who are Special.” The company has 14 different styles in sizes from infant through adult, and has sold glasses in 28 countries so far. Dellapina even won a Toyota Mother of Invention Award in December, which came with a $50,000 grant to further expand her business.

Group photo of people wearing glasses with the "Specs4Us" logo.
Promo image courtesy of Maria Dellapina.

Erin travels with Dellapina to conferences, models in promotional images for Specs4Us and even has a Specs4Us frame line named after her, but the bottom line is she has glasses that fit.

A pair of Erin's World glasses, by Specs4us, designed by Maria Dellapina
A pair of Erin’s World glasses, by Specs4us, designed by Maria Dellapina (Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer). Courtesy of

“She loves wearing her glasses,” Dellapina told The Mighty. “They’re the first thing she puts on in the morning and the last thing she takes off at night.”

Erin Farragger modelling her glasses.
Erin Farragger modelling her glasses, courtesy of Maria Dellapina.

Besides helping her daughter, Dellapina has found a reward in the feedback she gets daily from satisfied customers.

A young model named with Down syndrome named Guilianne. She's wearing glasses.
A young model named Guilianne wearing Specs4Us, courtesy of Maria Dellapina.

“I get up every morning knowing I will get an email or Facebook post of a child in the glasses with comments on how much it’s changed their lives, and it puts a big smile on my face” Dellapina told The Mighty. “You can’t have a better job or one more rewarding than doing something to help people all around the world.”

Maria Dellapina in the offices at Specs4us, in Burton, Ohio.
Maria Dellapina in the offices at Specs4us, in Burton, Ohio (Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer). Courtesy of

For more information on Specs4Us, visit their webpage or Facebook page


Have you seen the first film with a national release to star a person with Down syndrome? Check out the film “Where Hope Grows” today!

Available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes.

Clip From ‘Born This Way’ Finale Proves This Is the Must-Watch Show of the Year

Tuesday night, the season finale of “Born This Way” airs on A&E, and judging from the emotional clip below, it’s another must-watch episode.

The six-part docu-series, which premiered in December and has already been picked up for a second season, follows seven people with Down syndrome as they pursue career goals and romantic relationships, form friendships, overcome obstacles and make their way in the world.

In the finale clip below, a young woman sits down to have an honest talk with her mother about the day they received her Down syndrome diagnosis. The conversation that follows is powerful.

“I thought it was going to be so hard and so difficult,” her mother says. “It was not as hard, but I didn’t know, and when you don’t know, you are scared.”

Born This Way | Finale Sneak PeekIt’s all about their abilities, not their disabilities. Watch the season finale of Born This Way on A&E TONIGHT at 10/9c.

Posted by A&E on Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The “Born This Way” season one finale airs on A&E on Tuesday 10/9c. You can watch full episodes from this season here.

Have you seen the first film with a national release to star a person with Down syndrome? Check out the film “Where Hope Grows” today!

Available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes.

Woman With Down Syndrome Hopes Her Taylor Swift Dance Will Help Others Get Fit

Meghan Smith, 28, has been working hard over the last six months to get in shape. After starting Weight Watchers last spring and stepping up her dance workouts, the Fresno, California, native, who has Down syndrome, has lost 27 pounds.

Smith was featured on local news station KFSN this week when a video of her dancing to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” made the rounds on the Internet. Smith’s brother Zach had reached out to KFSN to share his sister’s story, and with his sister’s permission, he sent them the video of one of her dance routines.

Smith says she wants to inspire others in the Down syndrome community to work on their fitness, and her family says they’re beyond proud of the progress she’s made, both physically and mentally.

Along with shaking it off on a regular basis, Smith now eats lots of vegetables and chooses chicken over fried foods. She told The Mighty she’s enjoyed the attention her story has garnered so far.

“I feel great,” she said. “I love being a star.”

She now wants to encourage her other friends to look into Weight Watchers to “learn how much to eat, to exercise more and make new friends.”

Meghan Smith smiles while wearing a dress and high heels

According to the National Down Syndrome Society, adults with Down syndrome are more likely to be obese than those without the condition. It’s often the result of untreated hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone.

International Down Syndrome Coalition’s Board Chairman Beth Sullivan explained to The Mighty why it’s so important for people with Down syndrome to stay active and eat healthy. In addition to hypothyroidism, Sullivan said other factors contributing to obesity include the tendency to be sedentary, fewer opportunities for sports with peers and teams, and slower metabolisms.

“Good nutrition, healthy eating habits and staying physically active are frequently more successful when the entire family is involved,” Sullivan noted, adding that “there is evidence that a healthy diet can help dramatically reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Zach Smith, a special education teacher in Fresno county, says growing up with Meghan (and two other younger siblings with Down syndrome) was one of the biggest reasons he pursued that career path.

Megan Smith poses with her younger sister

“She always has had a clear sense of what she wanted in life, she just needed help with getting society to open it’s ceiling on what it would allow,” he said. “From being a key member of local action clubs for folks with support needs, to moving out into her own place here at the beginning of February, to her weight lost, she is really blowing the doors off of what even we, her family, thought was possible for her. I think at this point we are only scratching the surface of what individuals with support needs can accomplish, and how they themselves have skills we as a society need in order to move forward.”

A Mother’s Prayer for Her Child With Down Syndrome

My dearest Jadon,

Let me start off by saying I am so extremely proud of you. I am so blessed to be your mother. You are doing such an awesome job with doing all the things that toddlers do. Mommy doesn’t like to place time limits on your milestones because she knows you will reach and hit them in your own time. I am more than OK with that. I cannot even begin to tell you the amount of love that I have for you, but I know you feel it with every hug, kiss and shared moment we have together.

You are my heart. I will do everything in my power to make sure you always have what you need.

Jadon wearing a long-sleeved green, red and white shirt that says "Next Stop North Pole"
Jadon wearing a long-sleeved green, red and white shirt that says “Next Stop North Pole”

I wish the world’s eyes were more open to how awesome Down syndrome is and that it isn’t anything to be sad about or the dismal diagnosis it’s made out to be all too often. I wish the world could look through my eyes and see how wonderfully made you are.

I wish they could see what I believe, which is that God made every intricate detail of who you are just as you should be. There are no two people alike in this world.

I pray nobody will ever try to steal your joy and your happiness. I pray you will always accept you for you and that nobody will ever make you feel unworthy. You are perfect just the way you are. May you always continue to smile and laugh. May you always continue to be the fiercely independent soul you already are at the tender age of 2 and a half. May you always know how loved and cherished you are.

May you always know how special you are, not just by all who love you, but more importantly by God. I believe God doesn’t make mistakes, and this shows in you.

I love you, Jadon. I will never, ever stop. You are the light who brightens my world each and every day. Never forget that.

All my love,


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