This Photo of Children With Down Syndrome Changed the Course of One Woman’s Life

A photoshoot of 11 children with Down syndrome changed one woman’s life forever.

When photographer and kindergarten teacher Julie Willson decided to do a portrait series of children with Down syndrome last October, she never imagined the massive response it would get.

11 Children with Down syndrome pose for a photo
Photo courtesy of Julie Willson / JuleD Photography

Many media sites shared the images from the shoot, and thousands of people from all over the world saw them.

Girl with Down syndrome poses
Photo courtesy of Julie Willson / JuleD Photography

Willson says it was a whirlwind of excitement, with different people contacting her every day to tell her how much it meant to them to see children with Down syndrome in the media.

“My life has definitely changed for the better since the photo shoot,” Willson told The Mighty. “I realized I had a calling in life to help raise Down syndrome
awareness. I knew a lot about what it was like to grow up with a sister
who had Down syndrome, but this whole experience has taught me way more
than I could have imagined.”

Girl with Down syndrome poses for photo
Photo courtesy of Julie Willson / JuleD Photography

The photos, which were in honor of Willson’s late sister Dina inspired a follow up video featuring the 11 families involved in the shoot. It also went viral.

The success of both endeavors led Willson to a new one — she’s co-founded a nonprofit. She teamed up with Shannon Daughtry, one of the mothers from the October photo shoot, and they officially created the organization Nothing Down. Another mother from the shoot, Colleen McGuire, joined the board and is now the nonprofit’s secretary.

Promotional image for Nothing Down featuring children with Down syndrome
Photo courtesy of Julie Willson / JuleD Photography

Willson says there’s been an outpouring from the community and from the original 11 families, many of whom have offered their time and energy in support of the organization.

“During our video, one of the moms said, ‘There’s nothing down about Down
syndrome,'” Willson told the Mighty. “From the second she said it, the quote stuck with me.”

Julie Willlson and her husband on their wedding day with her sister, Dina. Dina sang at the ceremony.
Julie Willson and her husband on their wedding day with her sister, Dina. Dina sang at the ceremony. Photo courtesy of Julie Willson / JuleD Photography

Willson hopes Nothing Down will help educate and advocate for pregnant moms and new parents who are receiving their child’s diagnosis. Their main mission is to provide educational materials, including a DVD of their viral video, and a resource packet to doctor’s offices, hospitals and genetic counselors. In doing so, they hope to offer encouragement to parents.

Wilson with a little boy with Down syndrome who was in her photo shoot.
Willson with a little boy with Down syndrome who was in her photo shoot. Photo courtesy of Julie Willson / JuleD Photography

When asked what message she hopes her work will send, Willson had this to say:

The overwhelming majority, when asked about life with their child with
Down syndrome, have expressed they wouldn’t change a thing. In fact,
most consider themselves lucky that they were chosen to parent their extra special child. It is our desire that the world could begin to see individuals with Down syndrome in the same light that their loved ones do. We want to clear up the myths and correct all of the outdated misconceptions so many still have about Down syndrome. It’s not a diagnosis of doom. All you have to do is spend an hour with someone with Down syndrome to know that there truly is Nothing Down about it!

To learn more, visit the Nothing Down website, where you can even apply for your child to be a part of an upcoming project.

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