Eastern Iowa families work to raise more awareness and inclusion of Down Syndrome

Published: Sep. 23, 2022 at 4:56 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) -Two eastern Iowa families are spreading a message of inclusion after having children with Down Syndrome. They say they hope they can change the stigma often associated with the diagnosis.

2-year-old Cal Rivera of Iowa City is full of love. His mom says he’s never met a stranger. Cal’s family found out he had Down Syndrome at the time of his birth.

”It was seen as a grave diagnosis, something to grieve. And we felt after spending time with Cal that the opposite was actually true and having a diagnosis of Down Syndrome was one of the best things that has happened to our family,” said Katie Rivera, Cal’s mom.

Cal’s friend Anna Kate Friedman of Belle Plaine will be 2 next month. She also has Down Syndrome. Her family found out 14 weeks into the pregnancy.

”She lights up the room any room that she is in, and she is funny, and she is sassy,’ Michelle Friedman said, Anna Kate’s mom.

The families met over social media and bonded over Cal and Anna Kate, both the youngest of three siblings. They’ll be walking together on Sunday in the Hawkeye Area Down Syndrome Association ‘Step up for Down Syndrome’ walk in Cedar Rapids.

Those wanting to participate in the HADSA walk on Sunday can register online.

The event raises both funds and awareness of the group which actively supports families they consider blessed by Down Syndrome. Friedman serves on the group’s board.

”Just to spread inclusion and I want my daughter to experience life unlike any other child would,” Friedman said.

Rivera is advocating for a new narrative as well. She’s celebrating Down Syndrome through clothing, and her company Cal Pal and Co. It features apparel with sayings like ‘Almond Eyes and Chunky Thighs,’ ‘Forget Average Be Legendary,’ and the best seller, ‘save the homies.’

Rivera’s long term plan for her business is to employ several people with special needs. She’s already hired her first worker with Down Syndrome.