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MENAFN - Muscat Daily - 24/03/2014
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(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) It looked a party like any other. Streamers, balloons, party favours, games, pop music, improvised dancing and even costumed entertainment. Familiar articles all.

Not so, perhaps, the inordinately high number of loud coloured, striped socks. High, even for a weekend party.

They have the intended effect though.

More than 250 socks were on sale at TAISM before the event

Heads turn and not a few people ask, What's up with the socks?'. On this day, the answers come easy.

The socks are meant to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day, held on March 21 every year. Easy on the eyes and ready talking-points, they are meant as much to inform as to impress.

The first lots of socks' campaign in Oman, launched without fanfare by the Down Syndrome Parents Support Group (DSPSG), has seen about 1,000 funky coloured socks sold to the public.

The sale of each three pair sock bundle to represent the three copies of chromosome 21 that give rise to Down Syndrome brings with it a raised awareness of the realities of life with the condition.

Realities that the group says more and more Omani families are having to come to terms with.

''Between 90 and 120 children are born with Down Syndrome in Oman every year; one in 350-450 live births,'' said Ahmed Mohammed Hamad al Jabri, chairman, DSPSG.

Children at the party, which was intended as a ''fun, family atmosphere''

''That's a big number, it's double the (incidence of) Down Syndrome births in the world. And it needs to be addressed.''

Which is why for the past 11 years, the DSPSG has held a weekly session on Sundays at the Association of Early Intervention for Children with Disability in Azaiba to help the children develop through regular consultation with speech therapists, sign language and special needs teachers and physiotherapists.

''It really shows. The children who have got help and experience are becoming self-reliant,'' Jabri said, adding that these children, some of whom are in mainstream schools, could have very productive lives with the right support.

Support that is becoming harder to come by as the group's limited resources are stretched thin by its ever-growing membership.

There are now over 200 member families (at first, there were ''around 10-12''), a number expected to rise with the group's efforts slowing spreading beyond the capital.

''We already have some parents coming from Ibri, Rustaq and other wilayats,'' said Zuwaina al Barwani, a member of the group.

''When they see the work we do with the child's development and see the benefit of meeting with other parents who are dealing with the same problems, exchanging experiences and asking questions, it's a relief.''

And parties, like the one on Friday, see a greater turnout because it is a chance for the children to have fun and the parents to unwind.

As important it is for the children to develop their cognitive and social interaction skills, the sessions and celebrations are also crucial for parents, Jabri said, because ''every parent will have questions like Why me? Why my child?'.

The group gives them information, help and hope''. They also help alter public perception that ''these children are not normal, that they will go wild,'' said Barwani.

''It's not like they are crazy. They are friendly and they like interacting with people. They are just slow learners.

Students from Azzan bin Qais International School in Bausher wearing the socks in support (Photos: Muscat Daily)

''It's ignorance on the parents' part too if they don't let their child come outside because they are ashamed.''

The socks, Zuwaina's idea, are doing their bit. Despite her initial apprehensions about whether the group would be able to sell them all, only a few dozen pairs remained on sale at Friday's party.

Over 250 had been distributed to and sold out at The American International School of Muscat (TAISM) and another 100 had found buyers at Azzan bin Qais International School (Bausher) in the run-up to March 21.

''And if they give us more socks, we might do it for next month,'' said Vanessa Seymour, a grade 11 student at TAISM, which held a Sock Day' on Sunday in support of the group.

''We're also trying to organise a sock fashion show on the different ways to wear the sock.''

Priced at RO1 a pair, the socks aren't intended to be sold at a profit or help directly in securing funding for the group. Their worth is measured in the message they help spread. ''We are grateful for the support from individuals and companies,'' Jabri said.

''At this stage, we are not looking for big money. We are just looking for funding to pay our therapists and to raise awareness that there is a group helping children with Down Syndrome, giving them opportunities to get a good foundation and hel


Muscat Daily

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