The Extra-Special Extra Chromosome

Oliver was one of over 1000 to join in the Buddy Walk this year, organized by the Down Syndrome Association (DSA), in San Diego’s Balboa Park on Saturday, October 20, 2012.

The Buddy Walk raises awareness and money for both the DSA and The National Down Syndrome Society. All proceeds help to fund resources for families and people with special needs. According to the DSA site, there are approximately 400,000 people across the nation with Down syndrome. That means approximately 1 in 691 babies are born with Down syndrome.

Down syndrome is a genetic condition caused by the development of an additional 21st chromosome during the early stages of pregnancy. The condition is related to delays in language, physical and cognitive developments which vary for each individual. This extra chromosome is the result of a malfunction in cell-division that cannot be prevented. The DSA site emphasizes that none of the parents’ actions, experiences, or emotions previous to or during pregnancy cause the genetic anomaly. The ultimate mission of the DSA is to provide various and accessible therapies to stimulate the delayed developments associated with Down syndrome.

People with Down syndrome are often categorized as separate and distant from the rest of the community. Non-profit organizations such as the DSA strive for the inclusion of people with Down syndrome in every aspect of life. Staying involved in the cause simply means accepting those with special needs into our community as regular individuals. Aside from an additional chromosome, people with Down syndrome are no different from anybody else.

Oliver’s mother, Jessica Unden, said that too often people who discover Oliver has Down syndrome feel the need to apologize. She politely assures them that there is nothing at all to be sorry for. The condition is not the defining factor for Oliver or any person with Down syndrome. Like any other child, he eats, sleeps, walks, plays, sings and dances (to his favorite Yo Gabba Gabba songs) and communicates. Oliver is visited by an occupational and physical therapist, free of cost, each week to help him reach specific developmental milestones. Due to such accessible resources and devoted parents, Oliver communicates mainly through an impressive amount of sign language. He receives annual eye and dental exams, as well as other medical exams as needed.

“We are very fortunate to have great medical insurance, but for families who do not, Down syndrome organizations offer essentially all medical needs free of charge. They are saints!” Unden said.

Unden insists that her son is no different than any other baby.

“He is just as happy, funny, sweet, annoying, disobedient, defiant and destructive as any (almost) two-year-old,” she said. “I was afraid of Down syndrome before I truly knew Down syndrome. Now, it’s one of my favorite things about him.”

Though the Buddy Walk has already passed, UCSD students are still able stay involved all year long by embracing people with Down syndrome as part of our community. Anyone can further help great non-profit organizations like the DSA to include people with special needs in every aspect of life, by participating in events held here in San Diego supporting Down syndrome throughout the year, such as the DSA Holiday Social at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel taking place on Sunday, December 9, 2012. The DSA site,, also accepts donations to fund resources for families and people with Down syndrome locally.