As the 13th annual World Down Syndrome Day draws near, the Manitoba Down Syndrome Society (MDSS) is asking people throughout the province to show their support for this year’s theme: “End the Stereotypes”.

And a fun, colourful way in which Manitobans can get involved and initiate positive conversation is by wearing mismatched socks – either their own or those purchased by contacting the MDSS – as part of the Lots of Socks campaign. They can also engage on social media by using the hashtags #WorldDownSyndromeDay and #EndTheStereotypes on Thursday, March 21.

“Down syndrome is a genetic condition resulting from an extra copy of chromosome 21, which is why we celebrate World Down Syndrome Day on the 21st day of the 3rd month,” explains Anderson, Executive Director of the MDSS. “With proper support and inclusion, individuals with Down syndrome can lead fulfilling lives and contribute meaningfully in their communities.”

It’s something Kayla Reykdal knows first-hand.

Her son Caleb, who was born with Down syndrome, continues to exceed expectations, provide joy to those around him and remind everyone he encounters of the importance of seeing others for the whole person they are, and not simply their diagnosis.

“Caleb has completely changed our family’s life in so many ways,” says Reykdal. “We have an incredible village that supports him and is involved in everything he does.”

While pointing out the complexities that tend to come with various appointments, as well as the necessity to advocate for Caleb and the disappointment of watching him being treated differently, Reykdal is spirited by the pride, joy and happiness in everything her son continues to accomplish and overcome.

“He also has two incredible sisters who are his biggest fans, and they have a special bond with him,” she says.

Reykdal encourages fellow Manitobans to buy and wear mismatched socks on World Down Syndrome Day, but she emphasizes that the most meaningful thing people can do for individuals like Caleb, and families like theirs, is to give them a chance, to get to know them for who they are.

“We love seeing all the crazy socks, but it’s also incredible to see the friendships Caleb has formed and how great many kids are to him,” she says.

As Anderson underlines, when a community dispenses with the harmful stereotypes that often accompany a certain diagnosis, it’s able to appreciate the amazing breadth of what an individual with Down syndrome can offer.

“Common stereotypes against individuals with Down syndrome include assumptions of limited intellectual abilities, dependence on others for care throughout their lives and a lack of capability to lead independent and fulfilling lives,” Anderson says. “These stigmas often overlook the unique talents, strengths and potentials of individuals with Down syndrome, perpetuating misconceptions and barriers to inclusion and acceptance in society.”

Which is where the MDSS comes in.

A parent-founded, not-for-profit organization established in 1991, its mission is to provide support, information and opportunities for individuals with Down syndrome, parents, professionals and other interested persons.

Specifically, it offers ongoing personal, professional and public education about Down syndrome, and it facilitates social networks, clubs and events that help eradicate the stereotypes, stigmas and exclusions its individuals and families experience daily.

“Our goal is to expand our reach across the province and be the supportive resource that individuals with Down syndrome, their families and caregivers can turn to for information and opportunities,” Anderson says. “We’re always looking for new partners and members to grow our community.”

Additional information about the MDSS, Down syndrome diagnoses, available resources, events and volunteer opportunities can be found on the organization’s website or by calling (204) 992-2731. Donations can also be made online, and special socks for World Down Syndrome Day can be purchased by contacting the MDSS directly