Just As I Am: One Extra Chromosome

Kenadi Browne and Megan So

Campbell Wyman leads a typical seventh grade life. He plays multiple sports throughout the year, doing especially well in skiing and swimming. He enjoys his elective classes at Maywood, particularly P.E. and Cooking. He loves Michael Jackson, and he often dances to Thriller.

He also has Down syndrome.

Down syndrome occurs when an individual has an extra copy of chromosome 21. The addition of this chromosome adds extra genetic material, altering how the person develops. These genetic changes may be present physically and/or mentally, depending on the person. People with Down syndrome have distinctive physical characteristics, and may be cognitively delayed or may have trouble with language development. For Wyman, Down syndrome mostly affects his speech.

“He understands everything, but it takes him a little bit longer to process and to execute,” Wyman’s mother Melissa Wyman said. “So taking the time to hear him out and giving him a chance to process really helps.”

Despite this difficulty, Wyman has become very social. He says that he’s really proud of himself for making friends, and his friends agree.

“Throughout the years, [Campbell] used to be a lot more shy, and now I’ve noticed he talks to a lot more people,” family friend and junior Jordan McCallum said. “He still might be a little shy at first but if you give him a chance, he’s a really nice guy.”

Wyman has excelled in other areas of his life as well, particularly in sports. He plays basketball, wrestles, swims, and skis on a race team. He has won nine medals in skiing, something not many seventh graders can say they have done. He also participates in krav maga, a type of martial art.

“They tell you that [kids with Down syndrome] aren’t going to be able to do all these things, you know, they tell you, ‘don’t expect this, don’t expect that,’” Melissa Wyman said. “[Campbell] has proved them wrong so far.”

Melissa Wyman coaches girls’ soccer at Liberty, and she organizes an annual Down syndrome Awareness soccer game for the C Team. This game is important to her and many members of the team, as it displays the accomplishments of people with Down syndrome in the community.

“I think [the game] is important for awareness, because a lot of people don’t really understand what it means to have Down syndrome, so they get to enjoy the game and they also get to be educated about Down syndrome,” freshman midfielder Sarah Stucky said.

During halftime, Melissa Wyman and a few kids with Down syndrome, who are chosen by the soccer team, come out on the field and give speeches about their experiences. They provide a valuable way for spectators of the soccer game to learn about Down syndrome and how it affects the community.

“[The game] shows the community what kinds of contributions [kids with Down syndrome] give to families and to the people in the community,” said Melissa Wyman. “More times than not, a person with Down syndrome can do anything a typical person can achieve.”

In addition to the soccer game, the girls do an annual Down syndrome walk in Seattle called the Buddy Walk, which is organized by the National Down Syndrome Society. Each team has a buddy to walk with, and they all walk around Seattle Center to raise awareness and funds for Down syndrome.

“I walked with a boy named Max,” Stucky said. “He was super nice, and we had a lot of fun. It was a really amazing experience.”

Although it is important to be aware of Down syndrome, awareness does not solve all problems. There are still many obstacles that people with the disorder face. If a person with Down syndrome has trouble with speech, it may be difficult to contribute in a social or academic environment, and if a person is cognitively delayed, there may be challenges present with understanding others. According to Wyman’s family and friends, he has improved greatly with his own personal obstacles.

“I know at first at Maywood it was pretty hard for him, but now he’s doing much better in his classes, and he’s closing that gap,” McCallum said.

Marizel Kinimaka, Wyman’s speech pathologist, has worked with him for eight years. She says that the main difficulties that he experiences are speech intelligibility and sentence forming. This means that it is sometimes harder for other people to understand what Wyman is saying.

“Most children with Down syndrome are able to understand much more than what they can articulate. Their speech difficulties are often attributed to their inability to effectively motor plan for speech,” Kinimaka said.

That being said, there aren’t really that many differences between a typical person and a person with Down syndrome. Like everyone else, people who have the disorder just want to be included and recognized for who they are. There are many ways that people can include and bring awareness to those with the disorder.

“Students can help simply by just saying hello to someone with Down syndrome,” Melissa Wyman said. “A lot of kids with Down syndrome have the same capabilities as you and me. It might look different reaching the finish line, but they finish.”