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Timing of supports for children with Down’s syndrome vital


SPECIAL BOND Coinneach Moffatt and his mum Paula Dunne speaking using sign language in the offices of the Mayo Branch of Down syndrome Ireland in Castlebar. Pic: Alison Laredo

Michael Gallagher

It’s a dreary afternoon in Castlebar. The rain is clingy, damp and depressing, but in the Mayo Branch of Down Syndrome Ireland office on the outskirts of town, there’s a ball of happiness radiating all that’s good in the world.
Coinneach Moffatt is seven, has a head of flaming red hair and is energy personified. Within seconds of setting eyes upon him the dreariness, the rain and all the troubles of the world are forgotten. That’s the thing about Coinneach, he brings one to a different plain of thinking by the sparkle in his eye and the smile on his face.
“It’s like that at home in Kiltimagh. We walk down the street, and everyone knows him – and he knows everyone. He’s loved for who he is, and that’s the way it should be,” his mother, Paula Dunne, explains as her son plays close by. Coinneach is a boy with Down Syndrome. That brings its own challenges, but as the line in his favourite song in The Greatest Showman goes – ‘I’m not scared to be seen; I make no apologies; this is me’.
That lyric from ‘This is me’ sums up the ball of energy that is happily bouncing around the room in Castlebar. He’s a boy who knows he’s deeply loved and cherished, but he’s also a boy with a big future if the correct supports are put in place.
Indeed, the same story is replicated all across Mayo. People with Down Syndrome desperately need the correct supports to achieve their huge potential. Sadly, supports are scarce and some of the finest people in our community are being left in limbo.
Early intervention
“I want the world for Coinneach, the same as every parent,” Paula explains. “In a world where having a disability means life’s not easy – I want Coinneach and every child to know you can be what you want and do what you want. However, Coinneach and children with Down Syndrome need timely supports and intervention to make that possible, and I’m afraid that’s not happening at the moment,” she adds, as her son makes his presence felt with questions and opinions.
“Everyone talks about early intervention being crucial for children with Down Syndrome and they don’t say that for fun. They call it early intervention because that’s what it is and that’s what is needed. You have to start early intervention from an early age. You’re not going to go to a baby and start speech and language, but you should be going to a baby and starting physio.
“Children with Down Syndrome have poor muscle tone – they roll over later, they sit up later, they walk later. They all need physio intervention from the time they’re a baby and then they’ll hit these milestones earlier,” Paula advocates. Coinneach enquires about the dictaphone in this scribe’s hand.
“You wouldn’t have been able to understand him two weeks ago before he started another bloc of speech therapy. The progress he has made is stunning, but he’s seven now. He should have been getting consistent speech and language since he was two, not the odd block of it here and there. The frustration of not being able to express himself properly must be awful and yet, we’re told he’s lucky to be getting the bit he is.”

Staying hopeful
The hardworking volunteers in the Mayo Branch of Down Syndrome Ireland are tirelessly highlighting the lack of resources available to children and adults of all ages in the county. It is an ongoing battle and they have received countless promises over the years, but they never give up hope.
The challenges are huge, the battle is tough, there’s nothing easy, but these families cannot give up because amazing people like Coinneach Moffatt has a lot of dreams to fulfill and a lot of lives to brighten.
As his favourite song goes – ‘I won’t let them break me down to dust; I know that there’s a place for us; For we are glorious’.

The Mayo Branch of Down Syndrome Ireland has introduced the following courses in 2021:
• Photography classes
• Yoga classes
• Creative writing
• Assertiveness courses
• Easter boxes with surprises for members, siblings and families
• Art and movement classes
• Online group speech sessions
• Recruitment of a speech and language therapist in a private capacity
• Publicity around World Down Syndrome Day 2021
• Ballina Art and Movement Group starred in a film
• Mindfulness course