5 Questions with Melissa Clark: Uniting families affected by Down syndrome

October 6, 2013 

What can people expect from the local Buddy Walk that's scheduled for Oct. 12?

Buddy Walks take place in October all over the country to celebrate the potential of individuals with Down syndrome and promote awareness and inclusion. Our walk is a family-friendly fundraising event with games, food and music. It begins at 10 a.m. and families can enjoy the bouncers, activities and music. Sponsors and exhibitors will be set up with tents and displays.

At 11:20 a.m., we will take our walk through the Columbus State University campus and circle back to the pavilion for a sack lunch. We will then recognize each of our Buddies to celebrate their accomplishments. Registration is $10 per person and includes admission, lunch and a T-shirt.

Which resources are available through the Chattahoochee Valley Down Syndrome Association?

Our best resource is our families. We give people a way to connect with each other to share information and experiences. There are many factors in raising a child with Down syndrome (or caring for an adult with Ds) and having someone who understands the specific medical, behavioral and emotional needs is crucial.

We do this through various social activities, parent luncheons and meetings with guest speakers. We also have a lending library of books and DVDs to share, and our Facebook page has articles on the latest research and trends. We offer group outings for therapeutic activities (such as horseback riding) and have recently been able to offer sponsorships for member families to the National Down Syndrome Congress convention.

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. What are some common misconceptions about Down syndrome?

One misconception is that Down syndrome is a rare occurrence. In truth, it is the most commonly occurring genetic condition with approximately one in every 691 births in the U.S., equating to 6,000 babies born each year. Others think those with Down syndrome are severely delayed and should be institutionalized.

Today people with Down syndrome live at home with their families or semi-independently and actively participate in their communities. Most are integrated into the regular education system, are involved in recreational activities and have meaningful relationships with their families and peers. Some may have jobs in the workforce, and they value their contribution as a member of society.

What's your advice for understanding a Down syndrome diagnosis?

The most important thing to understand for those facing a diagnosis of Down syndrome, either pre- or postnatally, is that there is lots of help available. Obstetricians and pediatricians are the first link to understanding the common medical implications such as heart defects, low muscle tone, feeding problems, etc. Genetic counseling is available at most hospitals to aid in understanding how Down syndrome occurs.

State early intervention programs allow families to access developmental assessments and therapies for their child. In addition, the CVDSA gives people a way to connect with others that have been through it, as it is typically a very emotional period for most families. They may not have received the baby they expected, but they need to know that they will love that child and he or she is capable of great things and will have a positive impact on the family.

Aside from your organization, what's the best-kept secret in the Chattahoochee Valley?

It probably isn't a secret, but I love all the activities downtown. It seems there is always something going on, like the Uptown Concert Series, Market Days, events at the RiverWalk, etc. Both Columbus and Phenix City have been revitalized recently, giving the area great energy and something for all ages.

Vital Stats

Name: Melissa Clark

Age: 33

Job: Board president, Chattahoochee Valley Down Syndrome Association; Regional Credit Manager, Synovus Financial

Hometown: Phenix City

Current home: Phenix City

Family: Husband Ryan, married 13 years; daughter Katy, 8; son John Henry, 6.

Education: Accounting, Columbus State University; Graduate School of Banking at Louisiana State University

Favorite book: I like many of the classics; more recently, I thoroughly enjoyed the Millennium series of novels by Stieg Larsson.

Favorite movie: Comedies and action movies are my favorite, but I'm a sucker for chick-flicks, too (don't tell anyone).

Favorite restaurant: My local favorite is Downstairs at the Loft.

Favorite quote: "The only disability in life is a bad attitude."

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