World Down Syndrome Day is celebrated across the globe on 21 March and is held to raise awareness of the genetic condition.
Down syndrome is not an illness or disease and is a genetic condition that occurs when the individual is born with a full or partial copy of an extra chromosome, adding up to 47 rather than 46 chromosomes.
21 March was selected to signify the uniqueness of the triplication of the extra chromosome called 'trisomy 21', which causes Down syndrome.
The condition can occur in any ethnic background and gender and is present from birth.
Down syndrome affects 1 in every 700 live births around the world, however, the degree of the condition varies from different intellectual, physical and medical issues.
Some of the common characteristics that people with Down syndrome have are:
- Round faces
- Upward slant to the eyes
- Short stature
- Small nose
- Small mouth and a larger tongue
- Low muscle tone
- Single deep crease across the centre of the palm
The cognitive challenges faced by people with Down syndrome are slower cognitive development, learning processes need to be stimulating and requiring more time to learn skills based on individual development.
Additionally, health issues can range from infertility, weak immunity system, heart defects, cervical spine instability and more.
Despite all the challenges, with the help of early intervention, children with Down syndrome are able to progress at exceptional rates, and this allows them to develop their cognitive, linguistic and fine and gross motor skills according to the pace that they require.
Down syndrome can be detected as early as during pregnancy with the help of tests and ultrasounds.
People with down syndrome are just like any other person and have rights and emotions, and as it is a prevalent condition, requires the right care and treatment to help the child excel in life.
The Emirates Down Syndrome Association and Development Centre is a great place for families with people with Down syndrome in the UAE that are looking for a safe and welcoming place to allow their child to grow and learn and become the best versions of themselves.
The association is the first Humanitarian Public Benefit Association, accredited by the Ministry of Community Development in 2006 to serve people with Down syndrome from birth, and of all ages and nationalities in the UAE.
With the slogan 'unlocking hidden potential', the non-profit organisation is targeted at giving people with down syndrome the right tools to learn and grow, believing in learning made accessible to all as well as getting integrated into society.
The association has around 610 people with Down syndrome and has students from every Emirate in the UAE.
As the early intervention is one of the best ways to truly unlock a child with Down syndrome's potential, the association also assists mothers that are pregnant and help them after they find out that their child has Down syndrome.
Salma Kanaan, CEO of Emirates Down Syndrome Association said, "Early intervention is the golden phase. Helping to reduce the gap between their mental age and chronological age, early intervention is an important service provided for the child after birth to enhance his growth and development."
Through the support provided, parents are then able to plan better and are given the right emotional support, even at the hospital. Once the child is born, the facilities at the association help to give them the right care and treatment required.
Salma Kanaan, CEO of Emirates Down Syndrome Association added, "Acquisition phase is very important, the child during the early intervention phase can acquire the skills easier than older children, and he can acquire most skills he needs earlier in life, helping him to develop his skills to reach his maximum potentials taking into consideration the developmental milestones."
The initiative was started in 2005 by a small group of mothers looking for support as they had children with Down syndrome.
From there, some of the current board members have been volunteers from the start, getting accreditation from the Ministry of Community Development in 2006 as a non-profit association, and putting in the efforts to see the organisation grow and expand its services with the Al Qusais headquarters opening in 2015.
Having started with educational habilitation classes in 2016, the centre now has six classrooms, including pre-vocational classes, with each class having five students, and are taught from language to mathematics and all skills in all developmental fields needed for people with Down syndrome to be independent.
Students also get to explore their interests through vocations and have the creative kitchen where they can understand what it is like to be a chef, study at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management, enjoy taking pictures and videos at the established photography club and explore the world of robotics through the Robotic Club and Artificial Intelligence.
Students are also taught how to live with a higher quality of life, take care of themselves, be a part of society as well as speak up freely about their rights, through the self-advocacy programme, the first in the UAE for people with Down syndrome.
All the therapists and psychologists that work at the association are licenced by Dubai Health Authority (DHA), with the teachers and psychologists licenced by Community Development Authority (CDA).
Salma Kanaan, CEO of Emirates Down Syndrome Association said, "We are like a family, In the humanitarian field, and it is not commercial. It is something that comes from our heart."
Additionally, the centre does not only serve the students but also the parents and has family counselling sessions, and supports them through specialised workshops and training, with every child receiving a fully comprehensive assessment by the team that has an educational and treatment plan from the therapists as well as special need and behaviour modification sessions, where parents can share their aspirations for their child during this phase.
The association also creates tailored plans for parents to deal with children with Down syndrome and offer support when required.
As the centre is based on volunteering with over 1,500 volunteers, individuals are encouraged to help out and participate in activities as well as spend the day at the centre.
For more information on the volunteering opportunities, visit the Emirates Down Syndrome Association website.