Mum who set up Portsmouth Down syndrome charity says son inspires her work
Last month actress Sarah Gordy received an MBE. She joined the ranks of film stars, politicians, novellists, scientists and sporting heroes who have been recognised for their brilliance.
What made the honour significant, a first in fact, is that it has never been bestowed on a woman with DownÂ syndrome before.Â
But it will have come as no surprise to Rachael Ross that someone with the condition could join the ranks of those honoured by the Queen.Â
Her son Max, 13, who attends Horndean Technology College, excels at swimming and athletics and has won countless medals in the Special OlympicsÂ and proves that with the correct support a child with Down syndrome can achieve their dreams.Â
In 2010, Rachael co-foundedÂ Portsmouth Down Syndrome AssociationÂ in response to the lack of specialist support for families with a child with Down syndrome.
The move came after the closure of the Portsmouth branch of Down Syndrome Education International, a charity she credits as world leaders in education and strategy.Â
And now it has come full circle with Rachael honoured for her work with her ownÂ charity, first with a Points of Light Award from David Cameron and last month she was recognised with aÂ prestigious Portsmouth Civic Award by the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth forÂ her outstanding contribution to education, Down syndromeÂ charity work and fundraising.
RachaelÂ lives with Max, husband Ken,Â and sonsÂ Jack, 20, andÂ Tom, 18, in the hamlet of Hinton Daubney, near Lovedean.Â
SheÂ says: '˜When Max was born with Down syndrome it was a bit of a shock because we weren't expecting itÂ but he was very much loved from the outset, and his birth brought us closer together as a family. Â
'˜We have always given Max the same opportunities as his brothers to lead a very full and active life.Â
'˜TheÂ only real obstacle we have faced was securing appropriate specialist support when he was younger, especially speech and language therapy.
'˜It wasn't until we took our case to tribunal that Max was awarded the regular speech therapy he needs, and it has made such a positive difference to all areas of his social and educational development.
'˜Max is clever and funny, and he never fails to impress us with all he has achieved. Â He makes us proud every day and enriches the lives of everyone around him.'
For the past nine yearsÂ Rachael and her team have supported hundreds of children into 80 mainstream schools across the Portsmouth area.Â
ButÂ in the too-distant past mothers who gave birth to children with Down syndrome were encouraged to leave them at the hospital so they could be placed into institutions.Â
Rachael says: '˜Inclusive education and positive media portrayal has played a key role in helping disperse some of the myths and prejudices surrounding Down syndrome, but although public perception of the condition has improved dramatically from the days of institutions, there is still some way to go.
'˜We have seen glimpses of what can be achieved as children with the right skills and support go on to lead more independent and productive lives, enter employment, and become valued members of their communities.Â
'˜But as yet, there has never been an entire generation of children with Down syndrome that has passed through the system with adequate and sustained support in all areas of need, continuing into early adulthood.
'˜Until this happens, we will never be sure of the true capabilities of these wonderful individuals.'
Husband Ken, a trustee of the charity, says he is '˜incredibly proud' of what Rachael has achieved.Â
'˜Rachael has worked full time running Portsmouth Down Syndrome Association for the past nine years without drawing a salary, increasing the support offered to the community to help properly integrate children with Down syndrome into a mainstream environment' says Ken.Â
'˜She hopes that she has helped lay the foundation blocks for further success in higher education and the workplace. Â
'˜By including all members of society from as early an age as possible, we will make this journey easier for them as previous preconceived barriers continue to be swept away, and the community at large become more aware of these very valuable and equal members.'
To see a video of the Ross family, go to portsmouth.co.uk.Â
Portsmouth Down Syndrome Association
In 2010, Rachael Ross co-founded Portsmouth Down Syndrome Association with two other parents.
The charity supports the whole family to ensure that children achieve allÂ they are capable of.Â
They work with 80 mainstream schools across the Portsmouth area and regularly get asked for support from further afield.
Rachael says:Â '˜Research shows that children with Down syndromeÂ are capable of learning with appropriate support, and access to this specialist support from a very early age leads to dramatically improvedÂ outcomes for these children.
'˜But although Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring genetic condition, it receives the least amount of funding.'Â
She adds: '˜Our social and educational support begins from birth, when babies and pre-school children attend our Early Intervention Sessions, helping them to reach their developmental milestones and prepare them for school. Â
'˜Their fellow peers alsoÂ learn to celebrate differences and will hopefully grow into more tolerant adults, and as the next generation of employers this will hopefully reap dividends.'
Go to portsmouthdsa.org.