Armenia Must Raise Public Awareness of Down Syndrome
In 2014, 45 children with Down syndrome were born in Armenia, experts state. There is no accurate and timely statistical information while according to the Health Ministry, 22 infants with Down syndrome were abandoned and sent to residential institutions last year.

At the Media Center press conference Zara Batoyan, head of the National Alliance of Protection of Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said Armenia has seen a recent positive shift in the public attitude towards children with Down syndrome, however, there are still concerns regarding integration and education of these children.

As children in Armenia are not provided with a whole complex of specialized services for children with Down syndrome, working with them is hindered, with the Government lacking precise statistics about these children. “It is a major concern that presently only data about children with disabilities are available while we do not have any statistics regarding people living with Down syndrome,” Batoyan said.

The Media Center held a press conference featuring the World Down Syndrome Day which is observed on March 21. The speakers included: Zara Batoyan, head of the National Alliance of Protection of Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Anna Movsisyan, parent; and Hasmik Azatyan, psychologist at Yerevan Medical-Psychological-Pedagogical Assessment Center. The speakers will share thoughts on advocating for the rights, inclusion and well-being of people with Down syndrome in Armenia.

Among a number of unsolved issues in Armenia emerges the lack of public awareness and of the complex of required services. “As a result, a lot of people avoid communicating people with Down syndrome, particularly at schools. It is crucial to bear in mind these children can be educated, they can live a long life and work,” Batoyan added.

Parents are not well-informed about the services available, Batoyan believes. ''They must know how to react and behave when they are told they are going to have a child with Down syndrome. Services range from psychological, informative consultancy to rehabilitation. Yet, in Armenia parents do not have an access to this complex of services and without knowing what to do, what organization to apply to, parents find themselves in a deadlock. Psychologically vulnerable parents sometimes rush to give up their child.''

Anna Movsisyan, mother of a child with Down syndrome, said lack of information leads to discrimination. ''Once people get to know the child's abilities, they forget about the problem. I myself have long stopped thinking about my son's health problem. I instead see his abilities as a human being.''

Movsisyan recalled the obscure situation she found herself in when her child was born. “I was myself at a loss. I took him to school because I wanted to prove my child could study at a school of general education. He went to school, made friends with students there but much changed for the better when inclusive education was introduced. People began accepting and understanding that Down syndrome cannot stop him from studying, working, succeeding and dreaming.”

Hasmik Azatyan, psychologist at Yerevan Medical-Psychological-Pedagogical Assessment Center, believes instant psychological support should be provided to parents at maternity hospitals. “Maternity hospitals do not have psychologists in their staffs who will explain to parents how to behave when their child is born with Down syndrome. They have to suffer through a five-stage stress,” the psychologist said, “At schools it is often parents who create such an atmosphere that make children avoid their classmates with Down syndrome.”

The speakers called on the society to discern the person, their abilities, without focusing on their medical diagnosis. “We are talking about human beings and we must take care we use appropriate words, especially when writing articles and posting on social networks.”


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