Monday, October 31, 2016

Down Syndrome Awareness Month with Moriah McKinney

The month of October is unlike any other for a list of various reasons. Summer has officially come to a close as the leaves begin to saturate the world with color. Football season is in full swing while athletes join the rest of the population, bathed in pink, to pay tribute to those who have battled Breast Cancer during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The holiday season slowly starts to creep up with the promise of family gatherings and an overwhelming amount of food. Cool fall breezes lighten the hot air as kids of all ages impatiently plan out Halloween costumes. In 1984, October was also declared Down Syndrome Awareness Month, giving us yet another reason to celebrate.

Down Syndrome occurs when an infant has an extra copy of chromosome 21, which causes changes in the development of the body and brain. It is the most common chromosomal condition in the United States. According to March of Dimes, 1 in 700 babies is born with Down Syndrome. We are still unsure what exactly happens to create an extra chromosome, but it is known that the risk of having a child with "Downs" increases as a woman ages. In addition to developmental delays, other health problems including congenital heart defects, hearing loss, intellectual and developmental disabilities, sleep disorders, and vision problems are common among those with Down Syndrome.

Despite the challenges they face, people with Downs can still live normal, healthy lives. Moriah McKinney constantly breaks the mold, proving anyone who may doubt her wrong, as she bravely pursues the life she desires. "It [Down Syndrome] means feeling sick because of other people, but I don’t really feel sick. It makes me feel different, so I just keep singing a lot." Moriah was born in Miami, Florida and moved to Boone, North Carolina when she was a child. On November 14th, she will turn 25. She loves purple and boys, but she clarifies, "my favorite thing is watching 'Hocus Pocus' a lot. Making brownies, baking, cooking and painting my nails and fashion and laughing with my friends." Moriah was one of the first friends I made when I moved 300 miles from home for college in 2014. I hold our friendship very close to my heart.

Moriah is a graduate of Appalachian State University's Scholars with Diverse Abilities Program. The Scholars with Diverse Abilities Program (SDAP) is a two year program specific to college aged students with intellectual disabilities. The purpose of the program is to prepare each student for adulthood, achieve personal growth and solidify occupational skills for future employment. Moriah feels confident with the knowledge she gained from SDAP, but she's not fond of being a graduate, as she explained, "I hate it. I wish I were still there. I miss having so much fun with all of my friends."

With her education behind her, Moriah has continued on to conquer adulthood. On August 23rd of this year, she moved out of her parents house and into her own apartment. Although she loves the freedom, it has come with a lot of responsibilities. “Getting groceries, learning how to be an adult and I just want to hang out with my friends and roommates all the time. I like to go out a lot and be around town. I volunteer with SDAP still. I’m working very hard. I work at Haircut 101, which is really hard but I know I can do it. And I love to get paid. I do the clean-up jobs, sweep the floors, clean the coffee maker, dishes and counters. I talk to everyone who comes in and that’s my favorite part. Sometimes I pick on them.”

When I asked Moriah what she would like others to know about Down Syndrome, she took a deep breath, pausing for a moment as I watched the gears churning in her head. Finally, she shared;

"I’m scared that people are still scared of Down Syndrome. It doesn’t make me feel good and it scares me for them. I have problems too. I’m trying to get more help for it, but people don’t see my problems are real. It makes me hate being like this. I just want help. When I’m sad, I see you [Annie] and I see my friends, but a lot of people run away from me. At the same time, I have so many real friends. I know that they will have my back and be there for me. I think when you have Down Syndrome, some people don’t like you as much. And I’m okay with that. I’m beautiful, and sweet and friendly and kind and nice. Sometimes I can be sassy or a goofball. My friends call me that. I’ve learned how to move on and let things go. I’m still growing up too. I’m becoming an adult.”

Thank you for being such a large part of my life, Moriah. I am a better person because I have the privilege to know and love you.

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Maira Gall