Having a child with Down syndrome does not bother Thomas and Carolyn Kimsey. What bothers them are the looks and expressions of sympathy from people who do not understand the condition.
Carolyn said people with Down syndrome are different, but they are the same. There is a commonly held stereotype that all people with Down syndrome are developmentally disabled.
“Of course there are some who are, but that’s a whole different thing, that’s not because of the Down,” she said. “It’s getting more acceptable now, but the looks that you get and the comments that you get — especially when people say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry’ — that just irritates me because I don’t know what they’re sorry for.”
To help raise awareness, the Kimseys are participating in the Chattanooga Down Syndrome Buddy Walk Saturday at AT&T Field, beginning with registration for the walk and T-shirts at 11 a.m.
Participants are asked to sit in the stands to hear the guest speaker at 11:30 and remain seated for the official 2013 Buddy Walk photo at 11:45. The walk of about a half-mile begins at noon.
State Rep. Eric Watson will hand out prizes for the oldest, youngest and “most pregnant” walkers, teams with the most members and teams that raise the most money.
“The girls who will be leading the walk are a cheerleader group and two of the girls have Down syndrome,” Kimsey said. “The emcee designs clothes for little girls with Down syndrome.”
The Buddy Walk kicks off Down Syndrome Awareness Month in October.
Seventeen-month-old William is small for his age because he was born three months premature. His birth weight was 3 pounds, 10 ounces. He wears clothes sized for a 9-month-old and developmentally, he is at about 12 months.
“You can’t attribute everything in William’s life to the Down syndrome, because he’s also got the preemie part of it,” Carolyn said. “William will pretty much be fine. He has one heart defect he’ll live with. It only affects 20 percent of his blood flow, so he’ll probably never have to have it operated on.”
The defect, she said, is not necessarily a result of Down syndrome and neither is the vascular ring he had Sept. 19.
Carolyn said many people with the extra chromosome drive. They live independently and most of them live up to whatever expectations are set for them.
The family pushes William hard. He crawled and pulled himself up before doctors expected.
“If people don’t expect anything, then they have nothing to live up to,” she said. “I expect William to go to college.”
Carolyn said the Down syndrome affects individuals differently. For instance, William’s tongue is not very thick.
“Some have very thick tongues and that affects their speech, but it doesn’t affect their brain,” she said. “A lot of people associate not speaking clearly with somebody who is not smart. There are a lot of stereotypes that need to be broken.”
Carolyn grew up around someone with Down syndrome who, like any other kid, cheated at basketball, experimented with cussing, drinking, smoking and flirted with the girls.
“He was just one of us,” she said. “I don’t know how to get my point across, but they’re they same, but different. I think everybody is different the same.”