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‘Independent’ 8-y-o living with Down's Syndrome

Sunday, April 06, 2014    

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AKIN to younger children is the tendency to be a bit bossy and demanding, believing and acting as if they are older than their siblings.

Jada Richards, eight, is very much like the typical younger sibling. She tells her 16-year-old brother when it's his bedtime, when to brush his teeth, and reminds him that he should be on his best behaviour. The only difference is that Jada has extra genetic material in chromosome 21, a condition known as Down's Syndrome, which causes delays in her development.

So, although Jada will be nine years old in June, intellectually, she is operating two years below her age.

"She can ride her bicycle, spell and write her name; she is very good on the computer," Jada's father, Radcliffe Richards, told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview. "She is able to log on to the Internet and find Barbie and Dora all by herself. In fact, she can use all the gadgets in the house."

Her father said that the fun-loving eight-year-old is also independent and helpful.

"Sometimes she will go into the kitchen and decide that she is going to share her own dinner. So she will get her plate and open the pot," Richards stated. "And she likes to wash the dishes, so if you're doing that she will pull up a chair and stand on it and she knows where everything goes."

And, like most little girls, Jada loves to play dress-up and spends a lot of time deciding what to wear.

"As a parent you have to have a lot of patience, for the most part, because sometimes she will not understand things and move readily, and sometimes she doesn't recognise that what she is doing is hurting you, because in her mind she is playing," Richards told the Sunday Observer, adding that he and his wife are thankful that Jada has no medical issues. "Other than that, she is quite normal; it's just the intellectual part and the reasoning that is not there."

However, Richards said that he sometimes forgets that despite her size, she is operating below her age group.

Jada has been attending Hazard Primary Special Education Unit in Clarendon for two years now, but before that, she had attended a regular basic school. After an assessment, however, it was determined that the basic school did a lot for Jada in terms of her social development, but it did very little for her intellectual development.

"We teach her to do things on her own, rather than depending on anyone," Richards said, adding that they take her everywhere so that she can socialise with everyone. Richards believes that people have accepted that she has Down's Syndrome and are willing to work with her.

With the incidence of Down's Syndrome on the island being one in 868 live births, according to statistics from the Jamaica Down's Syndrome Foundation (JDSF), Jada is among those living with a condition which may cause some physical characteristics such as decreased muscle tone, a flat face, eyes slanting up, irregular shaped ears, ability to extend joints beyond the usual, large space between the big toe and its neighbouring toe, large tongue relative to the mouth, among others.

Richards was among those gathered for a symposium put on by the JDSF and the Paediatric Association of Jamaica on Thursday, March 20, to recognise the ninth annual World Down Syndrome Day.

It is a day dedicated to raising awareness about the genetic disorder and celebrating the special individuals around the world with the condition, JDSF Director Marjorie Scott Anderson said. This year's theme was 'Health and Well-being -- Access and Equality for All'.

According to the World Health Organisation, Down's Syndrome patients can achieve optimal quality of life through parental care

and support, medical guidance, and community-based support.

Established in 2007, the JDSF is a registered charity that promotes parent education, early intervention and increased social acceptance of the condition.

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