Get ready to ‘rock your socks’ on Down Syndrome Day

Best friends Morgan D’hooghe, 18, left, and Sydney Vrolyk, 19. Tara Jeffrey

Tara Jeffrey

Sydney Vrolyk empties change from her owl purse onto a coffee shop table and counts out what’s needed to buy a muffin and donut for herself and best bud Morgan D’hooghe.

“I got it,” she says firmly, holding up a hand before mom, Helen Van Sligtenhorst, can intervene.

“We’ll be fine, mom.”

It’s a Wednesday afternoon and the girls have stopped for a treat before bowling. Clad in matching purple T-shirts, the St. Patrick’s High School students are both members of the local Pin Pals Special Olympics Bowling Team.

They also happen to live with Down syndrome — but don’t want to be treated differently because of it.

“My big thing is, let’s drop that apostrophe “t” in ‘can’t’,” said Van Sligtenhorst, as the girls head to the counter to order for themselves. “The focus should be on what they can do.”

When Vrolyk, 19, and D’hooghe, 18, return to the table with their goodies, Sydney throws up both hands for a high-five.

“Go, team! Up top!”

In addition to bowling and a slew of other sports, the girls were on stage for last week’s performance of ‘Under the Sea,’ through Pathways Health Centre for Children. Sydney is an honorary deacon at her church and helps run a successful ‘Snacks for Summer’ program with her sisters.

Like most girls her age, she has chores, a boyfriend, has been to prom, and loves sleepovers with her bestie. She’s even busy working at places like Bad Dog, and the Inn of the Good Shepherd.

“I want people to talk positively about me,” she says. “And I want them to rock their socks.”

She’s referring to an awareness campaign encouraging people to wear bright, spunky socks on March 21 — World Down Syndrome Day — to celebrate the uniqueness of individuals with the genetic disorder, which results in an extra 21st chromosome.

“So much has changed in 20 years,” says Van Sligtenhorst, recalling the grief and fear she felt when she learned her daughter had Down syndrome, which causes delays and limitations in physical and intellectual development.

“There’s been so much growth and acceptance… now it’s like, you know what? Everything is going to be OK.

“Now I look for possibilities,” she added. “What can be done? Where can they go and what can they do?”

Rock your Socks day highlights the Down Syndrome Association of Lambton County, which supports a speech camp and partners with organizations like the local Carpenter’s Union and City of Sarnia to provide opportunities in woodworking and baseball.

St. Pat’s is also hosting a ‘jean day’ for students, with donations going to the association.

“We provide support to each other,” Van Sligtenhorst said of the group, which has about 20 local families, meets monthly and hosts activities and fundraisers.

“We all want the same thing: we want independence, we want barriers removed, and we want a full life of opportunities.”