DANBURY, Conn.-- Having a child with Down syndrome has given Danbury’s Kim Gifford a new perspective: Her son, Peter, a junior at Staples High School in Westport, shows her what is truly most important in life.
“It helps me appreciate things in the world,’’ said Gifford, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker. “When you don’t have a person with a disability in your life, you don’t have that appreciation for how challenging things can sometimes be. He’s made me softer, more compassionate. He’s changed my life for the better.”
October is national Down Syndrome Awareness Month. The National Down Syndrome Society will sponsor 250 “Buddy Walks” across the nation to promote the value, acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome.
Peter, 17, is high-functioning and has attended public schools since he was 3 years old. He plays sports, takes classes in math and science, and loves music and art.
“My favorite sport to play is basketball,’’ Peter said. “I like to shoot baskets and dribble the ball.”
His mother marvels at his his determination and personality. When Peter was born, she had no idea what the future held.
“When he was born, one doctor was really negative,’’ said Gifford, a single mother whose ex-husband lives in Westport. “He told us he’d be a rag doll. He’s blown that apart. We all have talents and struggles. With Down syndrome, you never know what that talent could be. There is no ceiling for him. It all comes from within. I see him growing all the time.”
Peter is not unlike most other teenagers. He loves to watch scary movies on YouTube, plays on the computer and reads. “I also like to count money,’’ he said with a grin.
Peter is also a social magnet. His mother said he is well-received by classmates and sometimes receives too much attention. “He’s very creative and smart socially,’’ Kim said. “He lets people do things for him that he can do himself. I’m trying to break him of that habit.”
The hardest for part for Kim is when people feel sorry for her. Certainly, there have been challenges, she said, and there are more ahead. But Peter has been a blessing that has changed her life.
“People feel sorry when they learn Peter has Down syndrome,’’ Kim said. “He’s such a gift. Don’t feel sorry. He has changed all of us for the better.”
Peter’s best friend is his older brother, Michael, a former Staples football player who now studies mechanical engineering at Colorado School of Mines.
He also enjoys the company of his mother. “We’ll go to the gym in the morning,’’ Peter said. “We like going out to eat, too. Subway, or fish and chips, shrimp. Sometimes we go to the playground, too.”
Gifford was a stay-at-home mom before launching her real estate career 11 years ago. She chose the field because of its flexibility, which allowed her to spend significant time her sons while still tending to her business.
“My boys were real estate kids,’’ she said. “They’d go with me to drive by houses when I was working. I think being in real estate helped both of them have a better business sense.”
When Kim reflects on how far Peter has come over the years, her heart swells with pride.
“He’s a superstar,’’ she said. “He has to try so much harder than everybody else. I’m proud of him being so persistent and never giving up. I try to help him when he does get frustrated with some things. I’m just so proud that he has far surpassed what the original diagnosis was.”
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