Parents of children with Down Syndrome are coming together on Saturday 21 October to celebrate Namibia's first ever day dedicated to children living with the genetic disorder. The day is organised by the Down Syndrome Association of Namibia, a voluntary parent support group that champions the lifestyle normalisation of Down Syndrome children and young adults, and their integration into mainstream society.
Although the exact number of people with Down Syndrome in Namibia is not known, the association's chairperson, Dr Eline van der Linden said roughly one in 700 babies are born with the condition which indicates that there may be several thousand Down Syndrome people in the country. Worldwide, October is dedicated to the disorder under the World Down Syndrome label.
The association facilitates access to health care. "Through public and private medical aid channels, we have assisted quite a few babies and young children to undergo heart operations in Cape Town and at the Central Hospital Cardiac Unit. We also provide guidance for those who care for young kids with Down Syndrome with early intervention measures such as physiotherapy, occupational and speech therapy" said Dr van der Linden.
Helping the children to assume a life as normal as possible, the association help parents and caretakers to find a place in their local kindergarten or primary school, and also at the schools for children with special needs like Moreson and Dagbreek.
"We are working on a pilot program with UNAM, NIED and the Ministry of Education to place learners with Down Syndrome in regular schools while supporting the teacher and school management with the required learning methods and tools. We strongly believe that parents or caretakers play a crucial role in the education of the child with challenges, and encourage their active participation in the pilot. By means of Continuous Professional Development courses the pilot aims to prepare more teachers for inclusive education practices" she said adding that with the right support, Down children can learn and live a healthy, happy and productive life.
The association is also seeking opportunities to support young adults in the work place although this area of advocacy still needs more promotion. "We already have a few young adults employed in sheltered work places, and going forward we will be drawing on their achievements" said Dr van der Linden.
The association helps parents of Down children to access the government's disability grants by guiding them through the application process.