International Down Syndrome day is celebrated annually on 21 March 2014 to raise awareness of what Down Syndrome is, what it means to have Down Syndrome as well as the vital role these amazing people play in our lives and community, says Kathy Jooste, Chief Executive Officer of Avril Elizabeth Home for the Mentally Handicapped.
“Although this special day has been running for nine years, it is sad that very little is said or done to spread awareness of it in our country as it falls on the same day as Human Rights Day, which is itself a very important day.
“We find that many people still have misconceptions about what the Syndrome is, and unfortunately discrimination and fear of those who have Down Syndrome is still rife in our country.
Having cared for the intellectually challenged for the past 43 years, many of whom have Down Syndrome, the Home is considered a leader in the field.
“The international theme for this year’s awareness day was Health and Wellbeing – Access and Equality for all,” says Jooste. “It is very important for people to understand that Down Syndrome is not an illness, it is a genetic condition.
“Many people with the Syndrome are able to communicate well and can contribute economically to our society. Some in the Home have the opportunity to “work” in our Adult Therapy Centre where we have secured contracts for work that can be performed by our residents from various companies.
“The work includes tasks such as inserting paper into envelopes, putting electric terminals together or working on various kinds of packaging”.
Jooste said it was an important part of their therapy to do so and it creates a sense of normalcy and independence for them. It also contributes to the health and wellbeing of the resident.
“Some of the facts about Down Syndrome are that it has nothing to do with ones socio-economic status, age nor race. It occurs as a result of chromosomal disorder occurring at the time of conception.
“The exact cause is still unknown. What is known is that the disorder occurs as a result of an extra chromosome called Trisomy 21, which causes delays in intellectual and physical development”.
According to Down Syndrome South Africa, the incidence of Down Syndrome in South Africa is estimated to be one in every 500 births. In addition, due to the advances in medicine, those who have Down Syndrome have a much higher life expectance than before, approximately 55 years of age.
Says Jooste: “We have many aged residents with Down Syndrome and believe that it is due to the holistic care we provide together with the warm, happy and loving environment. We also believe that they are entitled to the same opportunities as anyone else and will continue to advocate for this”.
To find out more about Avril Elizabeth Home, or how to donate, go to www.avril.org.za or contact 011 822 2233.