For Down syndrome mother, 'marathon' efforts bear fruit

The mother of a boy with Down syndrome offers a ray of hope for other parents through her discipline and determination to help her son.

"We're running a marathon. We need to keep our breath steady and never give up halfway," said Gün Bilgin, head of Association Turkey, who has dedicated her life to raising public awareness of Down syndrome.

"Families must be conscious, disciplined, and show great interest in their children," Bilgin told Anadolu Agency in an interview marking World Down Syndrome Day.

"We urge families [of children with Down syndrome] to do early intervention when their babies are 2 months old unless the baby has a health problem which would hinder the process," Bilgin said, calling the first three years the "golden years."

Saying that taking children to therapy centers once or twice a week is not enough, Bilgin said Down syndrome parents should strictly follow the routines and programs set down by the experts.

Her own son, Robert Cem Osborn, started special education at home in his second month, she said.

He also started preschool at age 3, she added, telling how hard it was to find a school in those years as back then inclusive education was not common.

"But still, I was a lucky . He got education at one of the prestigious schools which takes a conscious approach."

Although children with Down syndrome commonly face speech difficulties and delays in language learning, her son, living in a bilingual family, turned out to be able to speak both Turkish and English.

"As his father was British, my son was born into an English-speaking environment. But first we taught him Turkish. We didn't want to confuse him with two languages. He started to learn English at school after learning how to read and write in Turkish."

In 2018, Osborn, 25 years old and a high school graduate, gave a speech at the United Nations on World Down Syndrome Day.

"His speech at the UN conference and taking active participation at work boosted his sense of success, self-confidence, and communication skills," said Bilgin.

Osborn, who now works as a receptionist at the Hilton Hotel Istanbul, could be a role model with his education, employment, and active social life.

Stressing that employing disabled people helps them to live independent lives, Bilgin said the Down Syndrome Association facilitates job opportunities.

"Our project 'I am independent because I work' was one of our leading projects in the world," she said. "The project offers meaningful and full participation of mentally disabled individuals in business life. We helped more than 1,000 people get jobs."

The association also carries out a self-advocacy program which trains people with Down syndrome to speak up and advocate for their rights.

"For five years we've had a successful dance team. They do salsa and hip-hop dance. They meet and rehearse every Sunday. It strengthens their ability to work together."

She said last year the team performed at the Turkish parliament and a EuroLeague basketball match.

"All these events boosted their self-confidence. They performed in front of 15,000 people at the EuroLeague match. It wasn't easy because you need to keep up with all the moves in seconds."

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