living with down syndrome
Jul. 21, 2017
Worldwide, one out of every thousand babies is born with Down syndrome. They suffer from delayed physical and mental development. Some have trouble in pronouncing words and communicating.
Four-year-old An Ito has Down syndrome. She lives in the northeastern city of Sendai and attends a nursery school near her home.
She has difficulty conveying her thoughts through words.
An finds a couple of plastic bottles in the schoolyard.
One of her classmates had been playing with them and shouts at her for grabbing them without asking.
An cannot say anything.
Her father, Ren, and mother, Izumi, found out An had Down syndrome soon after she was born.
The doctor told them it causes delayed development in children.
For more than a year after An was born, Izumi felt she didn't want to take her daughter out.
"I couldn't stop comparing my child with other kids who were able to sit up or walk and talk well," she says.
But Izumi started to change her thinking after a friend invited her and daughter to join a dance session.
A non-profit organization in Sendai holds gatherings where people can enjoy dancing.
Those with and without disabilities can express themselves freely there.
An started joining the sessions when she was about one-and-a-half years old.
She has since shown more and more eagerness to communicate through gesture.
Izumi's thinking also began to change as she watched her daughter communicate with others in the sessions.
"Her development is delayed," she says.
"For example, she walks slowly, and she's slow in acquiring language. But I've started to wonder whether I should see this as a disability or not."
Izumi was once reluctant to enroll An in a nursery school. But she decided to let her go. She realized it would be a good experience for her.
At the nursery, An is trying to tell others what she wants.
While the children are eating snacks she politely holds the package out to a friend, using gestures to ask her to open it.
The boy who earlier got angry over the plastic bottles suddenly comes over and puts an apron on An. He wants to help keep her clothes clean.
The children find a way to communicate with each other, without using words.
"I believe An doesn't think she has a disability, and that she is the same as the others," says Izumi. "I want her to do her best to let people know what she wants while still respecting the feelings of others. I want her to be able to develop her communication abilities."
Back at the nursery, An is playing on a swing.
She notices a boy who is waiting for his turn.
She gets off and lets him take a turn.
An is learning and growing up together with the other children.
NHK's Ryoko Tanaka joins Newsroom Tokyo anchors Aki Shibuya and Hideki Nakayama in the studio.
Shibuya: I'm impressed that An and others at the dance studio as well were very active and communicating well with each other. How difficult is it for An to have a conversation?
Tanaka: It's still difficult for her to tell others what she wants, as she can speak only a few words.
In spite of that, she approached people and tried to communicate with them.
When I first met her, she came up to me and gave me a high five. She seemed to enjoy dancing with me.
When I carried the camera, she would strike a pose in front of it. An is an easygoing, friendly girl.
Nakayama: We also saw that An's mother has changed her thoughts about the condition.
But, in the beginning, it seemed to have been hard for her to accept the fact that her daughter had Down syndrome. What do you think is the reason for that?
Tanaka: I think the reason would be that, like Izumi, many people have rarely communicated with people with Down syndrome.
Izumi told me she only had a vague, negative image of the condition but little real knowledge of it. But Izumi gradually gained confidence, as she saw An interact positively with others.
Shibuya: I expect she's not the only one who doesn't know much about the condition. What is needed to help parents like Izumi and to increase understanding among the public?
Tanaka: I spoke to an organization that supports people with Down syndrome in Japan. They told me that each person has their own character... and we should think of Down syndrome as part of someone's personality.
People with Down syndrome develop communication skills by being part of society, just like everyone else.
Like An and the boy in the video, they learn to communicate and understand each other naturally.
The important thing is for everyone to be able to express themselves and to try hard to understand each other. That's the lesson I learned from An.