Karen and Megan, of Oregon, at Opening Night of the conference.

Karen and Megan, of Oregon, at Opening Night of the conference.

Sunny skies, a beautiful mountain backdrop, and friends from all around the world converged on Denver in mid-July for the annual Down syndrome convention, hosted by the National Down Syndrome Congress. It’s a family reunion of sorts…The goal: Learn more. Meet new friends. Reunite with old friends. And DANCE!

The Down Syndrome Network Oregon awarded three scholarships to member families to attend the conference. Additionally, three board members attended with families, including DSNO founder Paula Schiedler, and Barb and Karen Gaffney, who gave the keynote speech on Friday night.

Karen raised the roof that night. She had hundreds in the room rise to their feet with a thunderous applause when she asked doctors to focus their research on helping individuals with Down syndrome, and bettering their lives – rather than terminating them. Karen’s words launched the conference into a positive, learning experience that no one will soon forget. The topics introduced ranged from: improving speech clarity, unraveling the IEP process with success, and financial planning for ongoing care of special needs individuals. Specialists including Brian Skotko, Libby Kumin, and Pat Winders shared their expertise in genetics such as prenatal diagnosis, the benefits of site reading, and tools for enhancing gross motor skills.

Scholarship recipient Heidi Yaw’s son, Georgie, makes friends with Lizzie Dale (Jennifer’s daughter) at the Conference

“I always come away with a great list of things that we can easily incorporate into our lives,” said DSNO scholarship recipient Sue Coleman, mother of Cy (4), and Rita (2 with DS), of St. Paul, Oregon. “I learned that our kiddos will learn better in combining audio, visual and motor skills.“Most of all, I love hearing from adults with Down syndrome about how they have graduated college, drive, get married, own homes and are part of the workforce.”

The conference is as much about learning what works as it is about meetings friends who are walking in your shoes. Everyone dons a smile all week long. I remember one of the gross motor sessions where Pat Winders introduced a walker that enabled a young four-year-old to run across the room. All 40 attendees stood from their seats and cheered the little boy’s newfound skill and speed. It was awesome.

Each year, the Conference is held in mid to late July. More than 50 sessions are scheduled during a 2-day period. Every conference offers fee-based childcare, making it reasonable for a family to attend. Concurrently running with the conference are a self-advocate conference for individuals with DS and a sibling conference full of fun activities, including sharing sessions and field trips to amusement parks and elsewhere.

The annual Down Syndrome Conference is coordinated by the National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC). Next year’s conference will be July 11-13, 2014 in Indianapolis. If you were unable to attend this year’s conference, we have two ways for you to learn more:

  1. NDSC recently posted 55 sessions online. NDSC members can pay $45 for full-access; non-members pay $75. Here is the link: http://convention.ndsccenter.org/registration/
  2. Down Syndrome Network will host a Moms’ Coffee on September 6th, from 10:30am to 12:30am, with local attendees who will share their experience. Watch the DSNO website for more information.