In many ways, Alex is your typical 7th grader as he enjoys playing video games with friends and soccer. His sister, Isabelle, describes him as a “gamer”.
In other ways, Alex is not your typical 7th grader. He has been an actor, a model, a public speaker, and a recent inductee to the National Honor Society. At 13 years old, Alex has even managed to earn a Personal Achievement Award from the Montgomery County Developmental Disabilities Council which he will receive on 6/3 in a virtual ceremony in which he is also the Keynote speaker.
Alex happens to have Downs’ Syndrome and he has made it his life’s mission to spread awareness about the importance of inclusion of individuals with Downs’ Syndrome and other developmental disabilities. Inclusion has always been the number one priority to Alex’s mom, Cecilia who has always pushed for as much inclusion as possible for Alex since he started school and helps to inform educators of the benefits of Universal Design Learning (UDL) for not only students with developmental disabilities but for all students in general. UDL is an approach that includes flexibility in the ways students access material, engage with this material, and demonstrate what they have learned. UDL follows three basic principles which are engagement, representation, and action and expression.
When asked what his greatest accomplishment has been Alex had to think about it for a minute as he has quite the list to select from. When Alex was in 4th grade, he attended the World Downs Syndrome Conference at the UN. The focus of the conference was Downs’ Syndrome and Employment. Alex was selected to address the panel with a question. The panel consisted of representatives from all over the world who were from the business community that have had success programs that have employed individuals with Downs’ Syndrome and other developmental disabilities that were providing mentoring to other businesses. Alex was dressed in a suit and tie and with poise asked the panel how he could prepare for employment now for success in the future. Alex received a round of applause from the attendees followed by some great advice from a panel member from Spain who developed a program with his design company in which the individuals with developmental disabilities created designs for promotional goods. This gentleman said to continue to have aspirations that break down the stereotypes of the types of jobs folks with Down Syndrome and to continue to build on Alex’s tremendous communication skills.
The organizers of the World Downs’ Syndrome Conference were so impressed with Alex that they asked that be the closing speaker for next year’s conference. Alex addressed an audience that included Harvard and MIT educated professionals at the UN with over 600 attendees and had them engaged and laughing and truly changing and challenging the perception of Downs’ Syndrome.
Alex is always so cool, calm and collected so when we discussed what the biggest challenge is to public speaking there wasn’t an easy answer. Alex’s mom stated that it was a bit challenging to get his script materials just right but they think they have it figured out with larger texts in a book form for ease and organization.
Overall, Alex and his family have tirelessly worked to advocate for the importance of inclusion and changing the perception of individuals with Down’s Syndrome. In 13 years he has accomplished more than many folks twice his age. We are excited to see how much more this young man can accomplish in his promising future!