Josh Szymanik, Deseret News
Welles Peterson, 3, is all smiles as he works with his therapist in South Jordan on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. Wells was born with Down syndrome. His mother, Oakley Wells, says he has special abilities. He instantly connects with strangers and accepts everyone.
SOUTH JORDAN — Through play like blowing bubbles, 3-year-old Welles Peterson works with his therapist on oral motor control skills, physical imitation and taking turns.
His mother, Oakley Peterson of South Jordan, has big dreams for Welles, even though at birth it seemed their family's bubble had burst.
In a popular blog post she shared her birth story. Peterson told Jane.com: "The nurses started whispering in the corner, and I could tell there was some concern in her voice that obviously alarmed me a little bit."
After the shock, she slowly began adjusting to her family's new reality. And through the internet, Oakley began seeing the possibilities.
"Oh, it's huge, it's huge," she said. "They are so capable, and their abilities are incredible and they have so much to offer."
A little girl in California tells the world that Down syndrome is not scary in a YouTube video. A water boy in Wisconsin scores a touchdown. It's posts like these that inspire Oakley and moms like her around the world. "Eastern Europe, the Middle East, South America, I have moms all over the place that just don't have that support," Peterson said.
In fact, Peterson is discovering Welles has special abilities. He instantly connects with strangers and accepts everyone.
His therapist uses Welles' strong social skills to help him reach new milestones, turning work into games. He has sensory issues, so playing with water-filled balls helps. They also work on two-handed coordination and building muscle tone by bouncing on an exercise ball. Through early intervention, they prepare him for the achievements yet to come.
"I think as the stigmas changed, opportunities have really increased, too, and it's really something to celebrate," said early interventionist Brett Christensen.
People with Down syndrome live to an average age of 60 years. A generation ago, they lived to just 25. Some colleges now accept Down syndrome kids, and many have jobs and even careers.
Curious and playful, Welles may just break the barriers. Peterson doesn't set limits on her son.
"I've learned to just let him show me what he wants to do and where he wants to go," she said. "He's a loving machine. He is my hero. He's my personal superhero."
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She has a new name for what Welles has. It's engraved on her necklace: "Up Syndrome."
"He loves music and he loves sports. He's so totally active. He's so social. Really, there are so many different routes he could take," Peterson said. "We get so excited about his future. It's not daunting anymore. It's not scary."
She'll share those experiences on her blog: nothingdownaboutit.com. And of course, Welles, is proving that's true.
Advocates say word of new advances needs to be a part of prenatal counsel for parents expecting a Down syndrome child.