In Israel some 140 children are born with Down Syndrome each year. In total, there are about 7,000 people with this condition in the country. This syndrome is disproportionately represented within the ultra-orthodox community due to their taboo on abortions.
Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. Therefore, the syndrome is also called trisomy 21. The syndrome is characterized by cognitive impairments that can be identified as a mild to moderate intellectual disability and physical condition. The average IQ of a young adult with Down syndrome is 50 which usually leads to learning disabilities and developmental impairment. Persons with Down Syndrome are easily recognizable due to some characteristic facial features like a flattened nose, a short neck and crossed eyes.
Decades ago, physical conditions that often accompany the disease, like heart diseases or respiratory problems, caused those born with this condition to die at very young age. Thanks to improved medical treatment, the average life expectancy for those with Down’s is now 60, compared to 12 years in 1912.
Though some misconceptions remain, those born with this disease are usually accepted. But, a child born with Down Syndrome today, is often considered a burden on the family.
Yad Al HaLev (Hand On The Heart) was founded to provide support to families with Down Syndrome children. The organization supports families socially and professionally with counselling and lectures and also unites families of children with Down Syndrome. Their main aim is to support Down's children to grow up into adolescents and adults that can lead as as ordinary as possible lives.
"When you get the news that you have a Down syndrome child, a few things happen. You can't believe it, you're in total shock and denial. It's something sort of like a bomb that fell on your head,” says Liba Rozenbaum, a mother of a child with Down syndrome. “Somehow Yad Al HaLev knows how to get to families and to give them the support that they initially need and to help them cope with life's new situation."
Down syndrome patients have a hard time learning the basics of language. Yedida Levine- Sternberg, a clinical communications specialist at the Meshi Children’s Rehabilitation Center, told Jerusalem Post how children with Down's are helped in acquiring language skills. “For years, we have been using the strategy of visual stimulation. This technique allows time for exposure and repetition. Sign language turned out to be very helpful for Down’s children and the use of computer tablets is a real step forward.
In the past, a person with Down’s serving in the army would have been something unimaginable. But, due to a program organized by the IDF and various social agencies in 2008, 31 young men and women with Down's have joined the IDF. Seven of them have already completed their service and received the financial and other benefits of any discharged soldier.
This syndrome is widely accepted in israel and can be noticed in the fact that World Down Syndrome Day was established with cooperation between Israel's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Singapore Down Syndrome Association. This day is held every year on March 21st. This day has been recognized by the United Nations and was made a permanent annual world event.
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Picture: Flash90 Archive