The Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles’s mission is to enhance the welfare of people with Down syndrome and their families through the development and promotion of education, counseling, employment and recreational programs and to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of Down syndrome.
The Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles (DSALA) is a non-profit organization, which has provided support to individuals with Down syndrome and their families for over 30 years. A major mission of DSALA has been to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of individuals with Down syndrome. As an affiliate of both the National Down Syndrome Society and the National Down Syndrome Congress, DSALA provides families with the link to a nationwide community that supports individuals with Down syndrome.
DSALA provides up-to-date information about Down syndrome through its website, email blasts, support groups, training and conferences. In addition, DSALA works on behalf of individuals with Down syndrome both at a local and national level. The association’s speaker’s bureau provides training to medical professionals and others who work with individuals with Down syndrome so that they can be better served. The staff, volunteers and members of DSALA are dedicated to enhancing the lives of individuals with Down syndrome by promoting opportunities for them to participate in the community.
For new parents of children with Down syndrome, DSALA is a lifeline connecting them to experienced families and other community organizations that offer support and provide them with important information on educational, medical and community services. Through the Peer Counseling Service, DSALA offers parents comfort and optimism about the future. The association’s peer counselors provide support to approximately 80 new families annually.
History of Success
The Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles began in 1975, with 15 parents of children with Down syndrome. At that time, many parents were receiving poor or very negative information about their child’s future. DSALA was born out of the desire of a small group of families to raise their children with Down syndrome at home rather than to institutionalize them, as was the common practice at the time. Parents began working together to change a system and a philosophy from one that focused on what was deemed negative about an individual with Down syndrome to one that focuses on what individuals with Down syndrome can achieve. The group began meeting monthly and quickly grew to include 70 parents and professionals. In January of 1976 the group organized as a non-profit corporation. By 1990, seven sub-groups were formed to accommodate the growing number of families throughout Los Angeles County. Since it’s inception in 1975, DSALA has grown from serving 15 families and their 14 children to serving over 1,800 families in 2009.
DSALA collaborates with other organizations in the Los Angeles area regarding common concerns about the developmental disability community. In 1990, DSALA became one of the first affiliates of the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). Headquartered in New York, NDSS was established in 1979 to ensure that all people with Down syndrome have an opportunity to reach their full potential in community life. NDSS continues to increase public awareness about Down syndrome and discover its underlying causes through research, education and advocacy. DSALA’s association with the NDSS provides a direct means of support for Down syndrome research.
Enhancing the lives of individuals with Down syndrome and supporting their families remains the primary focus of the organization, just as it was over 30 years ago. What began as a small effort on behalf of a few families and their children in 1975 has changed the lives of thousands of individuals with Down syndrome and their families.
The Future Is Now
DSALA’s mission focuses on the development and promotion of five specific areas of need including, 1) Education, 2) Counseling, 3) Employment, 4) Recreational Programs and 5) Public Awareness.
Down syndrome is the most common type of genetic disorder, occurring once in every 800 to 1,000 live births. In the United States each year there are approximately 5,000 to 6,000 babies born with Down syndrome and it affects individuals of all races, ethnicity and economic levels. Much of the information that is available is out-dated and inaccurate. DSALA has developed a comprehensive educational program for families, health care professionals and members of the community to dispel some of the myths concerning Down syndrome and to demonstrate the opportunity for individuals with Down syndrome to have a meaningful life.
Our families benefit from the knowledge and experience of professionals, who work with individuals with Down syndrome, by attending sub-group meetings each month.
DSALA’s sub-groups are located in Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Bernardino County. Each group hosts a series of speakers to address the needs of individuals with Down syndrome and their families. Sub-group meetings also allow families to network with each other, sharing valuable information, resources and support.
Families who learn of their child’s diagnosis, whether prenatally or at birth, are usually in need of emotional support and access to resources. Many of their questions and concerns have to do with the health and the future of their child.
DSALA’s peer counseling program is comprised of experienced parents trained by professionals to address these concerns. Because the peer counselors have had similar experiences, they can provide new parents with the support, encouragement and important information they need regarding educational programs and community services. The counselors speak a variety of languages and are usually available within 24 hours of a prenatal diagnosis or birth of a child.
Because there are so many misconceptions about individuals with Down syndrome, finding meaningful employment is difficult. Parents are provided information on how to prepare children for employment through home training and educational programs and material made available through the association. DSALA also provides employment opportunities in the entertainment media by offering a casting liaison service for actors and models with Down syndrome.
4. Recreational Programs
Just as it is difficult for individuals with Down syndrome to find employment, it is also difficult for them to find recreational programs in which to participate. DSALA maintains a current resource list of recreational programs, which is available to all members of the organization. Each year, DSALA is able to match individuals who have Down syndrome with recreational programs in the community. Recreational programs are also made available through the website and resource list on line so that families can contact programs on their own. Families are able to learn how to access programs that meet their needs through mini-conferences hosted by the association.
5. Public Awareness
Creating understanding and acceptance of individuals with Down syndrome in the community is by far the most challenging task for the association. Individuals with Down syndrome are more like the rest of society than they are different. They have the same emotions and needs as people without Down syndrome, yet each person is unique. DSALA’s goal is for individuals with Down syndrome to be accepted as useful members of society rather than segregating them. DSALA works to provide opportunities for inclusion in school and in our communities. The annual Buddy Walk, co-sponsored by DSALA and the National Down Syndrome Society is one way the organization works to raise the level of awareness in our community. DSALA has sponsored a local walk since 1994, attracting thousands of families, friends and volunteers. This event provides all our members and parents the opportunity to talk with their co-workers, neighbors, and families about the exciting prospects for individuals with Down syndrome.
The Association also honors individuals with Down syndrome each year with their Voices Awards. They are given to adults with DS who have shared their voices with the community through education/academics, athletics, community service, performing arts, visual arts and employment. At the same annual event the DSALA’s Vision Awards are given to individuals or organizations who support adults with DS in these areas. The Awards presentations have taken place at a Spring Luncheon for many years, and starting in 2009 will be handed out at a reception and film screening, the SunDown Film Fest and Awards.