Orchard kindergarteners with Amy Needleman rocking their socks in honor of World Down Syndrome Day. 

Rock Your Socks: World Down Syndrome Day at Orchard

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Thursday April 05, 2018

Many people consider socks as solely an item of clothing worn on their feet. Who knew that socks could also have the ability to make a powerful statement about inclusion, awareness, and well-being? Amy Needleman, a South Burlington mom, that’s who. Needleman inspired her son’s kindergarten class at Orchard School to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD) March 21 by not just wearing mismatched socks, but by celebrating their diversity of patterns, colors, and sizes. It was all part of the WDSD “Lots of Socks” campaign, a worldwide effort to celebrate the day which helps raise awareness of what Down syndrome is, what it means to have Down syndrome, and how people with Down syndrome play a vital role in our lives and communities.

Needleman, a certified birth and postpartum doula, says there are three elements behind the meaning of the “Lots of Socks” event, beginning with chromosomes “kind of resembling socks.” This description ties into why March 21 is Down syndrome awareness day. According to WDSD, “The 21st day of the third month was selected to signify the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome which causes Down syndrome.” The other two reasons mismatched socks are highlighted, says Needleman, “It celebrates the brightness and uniqueness that people with Down syndrome bring to the world. And it’s a representation of a common phrase in the Down syndrome community which is ‘more alike than different.’ It doesn’t matter if one sock is knee high and red and the other is short with blue stripes, they are both socks and are essentially the same thing.”

In anticipation of the event, Needleman reached out to Soulmate Socks, a Vermont company which began with the premise, “Life’s too short for matching socks.” They donated 18 pairs of children’s socks and five pairs of adult socks so every child and adult in Setri’s kindergarten classroom could have a pair of “unmatched” socks.

Beyond sporting multicolored, mismatched socks March 21, Needleman says she began the celebration by sharing pictures of Setri throughout the years, adding, “I also created a poster with pictures of many people with Down syndrome who have accomplished amazing things, such as climbing Mount Everest, becoming a professional model, owning their own businesses, being an elected councilman, an accomplished artist, college graduate college, go skydiving, and other sports such as basketball, gymnastics and soccer. We talked about how Setri can accomplish anything, and that Down syndrome, while it may take him longer to achieve his goals, won’t prevent him from getting there.”

To help the children relate to some of the challenges a person with Down syndrome might have, Needleman brought fun exercises for the kids to try. “We had the children pair up and put a few marshmallows in their mouths and ask each other questions. This helped them understand how hard Setri has to work to form words mostly due to his low muscle tone, that also affects muscles in his mouth.” In addition, children were invited to put thick socks on their hands and experience writing their name with and without wearing the sock. “What they noticed is that it took longer and they had to concentrate harder when they had the sock on their hand. Again, showing how much work has to go into seemingly simple tasks like holding a pencil and writing.”

The visit ended with the class watching a YouTube video titled, “Just Like You-Down Syndrome,” which explores the life, hopes, challenges and dreams of three kids living with Down syndrome. According to the filmmakers, “The film’s primary goal is to open hearts and change perspectives because ‘when you have the knowledge, you understand, and when you understand, you can accept that kids with Down syndrome just want to be treated like any other kid.’”

Knowing the video was over 13 minutes long and included “pretty complicated and not so exciting parts about chromosomes,” Needleman explained some of the concepts ahead of time, including sharing her son’s chromosome chart. “The kids had an actual visual and we could talk about that third chromosome on the 21st pair. In Setri’s chart, they could actually see it. These kids watched the whole video with incredible focus. That’s really saying something!”

Setri’s brother Semeko might say it best, “Just because he has Down syndrome doesn’t mean he’s dumb. It just takes him longer to learn things. and anyway, no one is perfect, so we shouldn’t make any kind of big deal about it.”

Orchard School Principal Mark Trifilio, who also donned unmatched socks for the occasion said, “It was fortunate we were able to have the entire school community come together to celebrate Down Syndrome Day. Wearing highly colored, mixed-matched socks was a fun and simple way to acknowledge our students and other individuals with Down Syndrome. Using the sock metaphor to look at our DNA pairs helped to educate all of us, students and staff, about the medical reasons for Down Syndrome. More importantly, by “Rocking the Socks” we were able to see how all of us are more alike than different! “

Needleman adds, “Orchard is a full inclusion school for children with many disabilities. Setri spends the majority of his day in a typical classroom with his peers, with a paraeducator, and time spent outside his classroom for various therapies. In my child’s case, he is integrated so well, and is accepted among his class peers. That being said, Setri does have noticeable differences, and while children may be accepting of these differences, they may not understand them. I believe that understanding comes before true and full acceptance. I wanted to make sure that any child that has a question or curiosity about Setri felt that they could ask it, and that asking was okay. And will always be okay.”

SOURCE: Carole Vasta Folley, The Other Paper