Saturday, April 20, 2013

What it feels like to: grow up with Down syndrome

by Andrew Macintyre from the Herald Scotland,
I am 25 and go to Cardonald College in Glasgow. I've done drama for three years and this year I'm studying art. Quite a few of my friends from West Lane Gardens day centre in Johnstone go there. Only two of them have Down syndrome and the rest have other learning difficulties.
I go to the centre on Tuesdays and Fridays. It is run by Capability Scotland and I've been going since I was 18, but it's closing in December. We found out in October 2010 and did petitions – we got about 1700 signatures by early 2011, but it is still closing.
The day centre is 10 minutes from home, where I live with my mum and dad, and I can get there myself by bus. I do snooker, cinema, arts and crafts, gardening and cooking, and we have social evenings. If I could do anything, I'd stop the closure of West Lane.
My mum and dad had to fight to get me into the right mainstream high school, and I'm glad they did. I did three Standard grades – geography, English and social and vocational skills. An auxiliary came with me to classes and I had one-to-one tutorials with a learning support teacher. I got quite good marks in my Standard grades and got the Scottish Qualifications Agency Gold Award as candidate of the year.
I've been trying to get a job and have had lots of work experience. I've been at Barclays bank in the admin department, the Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow and the King's Theatre in Glasgow. I'm going to volunteer at Sense Scotland. I'm also a trainer for Down's Syndrome Scotland and they give me money for that. I get a payslip, which feels good.
I go to gymnastics on Wednesdays and Thursdays. I've been doing it for nearly 14 years. I started after I had been ill and it was a way to get fit again. I do rings, floor, P-bars, vault, high bar. I practise about nine and a half hours a week, and I do some voluntary coaching as well. My team have a mix of physical disabilities and learning difficulties.
I've done the Special Olympics twice – in 2005 in Glasgow and in 2009 in Leicester. I got gold in the rings and a few bronze in Glasgow and a few ribbons and silver for the vault in Leicester. Having Down's syndrome has definitely not held me back.
My mum nominated me to carry the Olympic torch. It was in Kilmaurs in Ayrshire, but a big crowd came from the centre, and my sisters, my auntie Barbara, my dad and mum and lots of friends.
I love Frost and Midsomer Murders. I never miss EastEnders and River City. I was an extra once in River City – in the doctor's surgery and walking in the street.
It can be difficult when people have the wrong idea about people with Down syndrome. People with learning difficulties should get support from family, friends, support workers and colleges. If they don't get good support this makes it difficult to be included in things.
It's important to me to get more independence skills, to get my own place and to have choices in my life.
My perfect day would be to have a long lie, watch Midsomer then go out for dinner with my younger sister Karen, older sister Anna, and my mum and dad.
Down's Syndrome Scotland,, 0131 313 4225. The exhibition Six Percent runs until May 22 at the Lower Cafe Gallery, Summerhall Gallery, 1 Summerhall, Edinburgh. Six Percent is a partnership between Down's Syndrome Scotland and documentary photographer Graham Miller.

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