School: Sanday Community School, Orkney
Thanks to organisations such as Downs Syndrome Scotland, and Upside Down's Orkney, and to events such as Down's Syndrome Awareness Week, everybody knows about Downs Syndrome. Or at least, they know that it is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of an extra chromosome, and that it can cause physical growth delays and learning disorders. But I'm going to tell you about the effects that it has on the individual with Down's Syndrome, and on those around them.
My sister Georgie was born at 7:46pm on the 10th of June 2004, at the New Royal Edinburgh Infirmary. Our parents had been told that there was a 1:56 chance of her having Down's Syndrome, but they had also gone for a private scan which had not picked up any trace of it.
But, after a night in the hospital with our mother it was discovered that Georgie did, in fact, have Down's Syndrome.
It is possible, though, that the doctors may have suspected more strongly than they revealed that Georgie had Down's Syndrome, for that is common in Scotland. Although this secrecy may seem unnecessary, it is this way for a good reason, for 9:10 babies who are known to have Down's Syndrome are aborted. These statistics seem shocking, although sometimes it is done to save the baby pain. However, I know that my parents would have kept and loved Georgie whether they had known or not.
Around half of people with Down's Syndrome are born with congenital heart disorder, or a hole in the heart. Although most cases can be treated by surgery, some can have lasting consequences.
Georgie was taken for scans on her heart and gut, and to our parents' relief, there was no problem.
We lived in Edinburgh for one year after Georgie was born, before moving to the west coast of Scotland. We had to change school whilst living there because at the first nursery she went to Georgie's requirements went ignored. It took us forty minutes to get to the new school by car each morning because we had to travel to the next village. This school was better, but our lives there were still not ideal.
When I was six and Georgie was five we moved up to Sanday, in Orkney. At this stage Georgie's differences from her contemporaries were becoming increasingly pronounced – she was not growing as tall as other people her age, and her muscles were not as strong, making walking awkward and tiring. Also her communication was very limited, although she could sign some words. But the support which she received, and continues to recieve, is astonishing. She has three teaching assistants to help her during school time, and one who helps her with after-school activities, all of them amazingly committed to helping her do the best she can.
Georgie loves playing music, and has a guitar, a mouth organ and a drum kit. She also likes watching films and then spontaneously re-enacting her favourite scenes. One of the teaching assistants plays the guitar with her, and another takes her swimming, which Georgie loves.
But, in my eyes, most impressive of all is the never wavering determination of our parents to not let her disability make her feel in any way inferior to anyone else -- because of course she's not. She is the only person I have ever met who you love from the first moment that you see her, because she only has to smile at you with her beaming, innocent smile to make you feel like the happiest, and most loved person in the world. I know this, because I have seen it in the faces of so many people, whom Georgie has decided need to be reminded that really, everything is going to be okay.