Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Loving Andrew by Romy Wyllie

Down syndrome is among the most common genetic birth abnormalities. According to the National Down Syndrome Society, 1 in 691 babies are born with Down syndrome in the United States.  When Romy Wyllie's son Andrew was born in 1959 and diagnosed as mongoloid (the term they used in those days), the prevailing medical advice was to institutionalize the child.  Although they mourned the perfect baby they had expected, they rejected the doctor's advice and followed their own natural nurturing instincts.  They took Andrew home and decided to try to give him the best life possible.  Parenting is tough under any circumstances.  The parents' role in a child's development is crucial, never more so than in the case of a child born with Down syndrome.  The provision of an enriching environment appears to accelerate cognitive development.  A high level of attention in a positive family environment and effective social and educational stimulation are critical.  These are things Romy Wyllie knew instinctively, but in 1959 with little information and no follow up, her family began their journey through the maze of parenting a developmentally disabled son.

This inspiring account of the challenges and rewards Wyllie faced while raising a Down syndrome child as an integral part of her family will appeal to a broad audience--not just caregivers and those who love and interact with a Down syndrome child or adult--but the casual reader as well.  As she says in her preface, someone with Down syndrome is first and foremost a person--a human being with a life to live and a role to play.  With modern improvement in medical technology and prenatal testing as well as the capability of terminating a less than perfect baby, it is especially important to be aware of the progress that has been made in treatment and acceptance of these very special individuals.

Wyllie does an excellent job of relating the changing societal perceptions towards the Down syndrome child over the years, compares her own experience from 1959 with those of two other families with Down syndrome children born in 1980 and 1994, and does not flinch when it comes to detailing her frustrations, mistakes, and concerns.  There is a raw honesty here that is very appealing.

It has been said that the biggest disability any of us may ever face is our own attitudes.  This moving memoir of one family's love and devotion to their son--which allowed him to master the skills of life and become a contributing member of society--will go a long way to improving societal attitudes towards those born with disabilities.

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