Different, but still Abel

PIQUA — At The Sanctuary Church, a family and their friends gather in crazy-patterned socks to bring awareness toward Down syndrome.

“I don’t know where the funky or crazy sock thing originated, I just know that that’s what everyone typically embraces. I think that it’s because of the different way it looks,” Amanda Saunders said. “The day really just represents inclusion, and God doesn’t make mistakes. There’s a purpose for everything, and there’s a purpose for different-abled people, like Abel.”

Amanda, her husband Christopher, and their family have participated in wearing funky socks for World Down Syndrome Day for six years now — since their son, Abel, was a newborn and was diagnosed with trisomy 21, a type of Down syndrome where babies are born with three chromosomes at position 21, instead of the usual two. Trisomy 21 is the most common chromosomal anomaly in humans, occurring in one out of every 691 births which affects an average of 5,000 babies born each year, according to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

When Amanda and Christopher got Abel’s diagnosis shortly after he was born, it came as a shock to both of them. While he was in the NICU at Dayton Children’s Hospital, doctors were preparing them with as much information as they could, which was overwhelming for both of them at the time; and then there was a ministry that sent Amanda and Christopher a care package full of things from occupational therapy-friendly toys to gift cards to Toys-R-Us — things that, Amanda said, made them feel like they weren’t alone.

“We didn’t know Abel had Down syndrome until he was born. To me, it was soul-crushing because now I have a child that’s not ‘normal,’ if you were to say that. But then you see that there’s this massive community of people who tell you it’s going to be okay,” Amanda said.

The care package Amanda and Christopher received after Abel had been diagnosed with trisomy 21 helped inspire them to start their own ministry, called We Are Abel Ministries. Their goal is to provide further education and resources regarding Down syndrome, especially to families who find themselves thrown into a similar situation they were six years ago. In addition to starting their own ministry, Amanda maintains a YouTube channel called ‘Staying Kingdom Minded’ and has several videos sharing her experience as a mother with a child with Down syndrome, offering guidance and advice.

“You don’t realize how much people don’t know anything about Down syndrome until it’s right in your face. Now, over several years, we’ve learned a lot, and it’s just nice to be able to possibly help just one person,” Christopher said.

“Our goal is just to be able to inspire and help other people,” Amanda said.

Participating in World Down Syndrome Day year after year has inspired Amanda and Christopher to spread the word to the workplace, as well. On Friday, Christopher’s workplace, Continental Express, participated in wearing funky socks as part of a social media push to give Down syndrome more visibility.

“It’s just nice to see how this has blown up since we started this,” Christopher said. “We have terminals in Texas, South Carolina, Indiana, Virginia — they’re all getting pictures and they’re going to send them to us. A lot of people that never would’ve known about it, but because of Abel, they will.”