Shane and Preston

Submitted photo

Shane Ludwig, 46, gives his little friend, Preston Taylor, 3 1/2, a tender kiss during a visit at a local restaurant. Their families spoke of the rewards of living with these two special young men in honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

In the 43 years between the births of Shane Ludwig and Preston Taylor, who both are diagnosed with Down syndrome, their parents agree that much has improved in society for their special family members.

The parents of Ludwig and Taylor, both of the Bradford area, spoke of what it has been like to raise children with Down syndrome four decades apart in honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month observed in October.

Ludwig, 46, is well-known in Bradford through his activities at Futures Rehabilitation Center, where he has worked 25 years, and McKean County Special Olympics. His mother, Sue Ludwig, said that when her son was born, she and her husband, Jim, had never heard of Down syndrome, a genetic disorder caused by abnormal cell division.

“After Shane was born, the doctor said we should put him in a home and I said, ‘He’s my baby and I’m keeping him,” Sue Ludwig said of the long-ago advice.

“It was challenging because there wasn’t that much known about it,” Sue Ludwig said of the syndrome. “The biggest thing was acceptance. I wondered ‘What did I do wrong’ and ‘Why was he born this way.’”

Sue Ludwig said a Catholic nun she encountered, however, helped her with acceptance and understanding of this challenge.

“She told me, ‘You are chosen by God because He knows you can take care of this child who is very special in God’s eyes. And he’ll always have a place in heaven,’” Sue Ludwig recalled. “I had never thought of it in that aspect, so that changed my viewpoint that it wasn’t me, it was just something that happened.”

While growing up, Shane Ludwig’s siblings, and the neighborhood children, loved him dearly and protected him if other youngsters teased or bullied him.

Despite chronic respiratory illnesses and ear infections as a child, Shane Ludwig progressed at school and home, where he has lived his entire life with his parents.

“He did well with the love of my family and the support of the schools,” Sue Ludwig remarked. As for the rewards from her special son, Sue Ludwig had this to say.

“The only word I can think of is love — the love they give you in return for all you do for them,” she said. “They are so loving and forgiving and innocent.”

She said her son also dearly loves his grandfather, Chester Tanner, 93, who has been his lifelong ‘buddy.’ In addition, Shane Ludwig loves babies and children, which led to a photo taken of him with his young friend Preston Taylor when the two were at the same restaurant with their families.

Preston’s mother, Jennifer Taylor, said she and her husband, Eric, are pleased to see older people, such as Shane Ludwig, thrive and do well in the community.  

“Society has come so far in their inclusion and acceptance of people with Down syndrome, but I know we still have a long way to go,” Jennifer Taylor said. “At one point, doctors would strongly encourage parents to institutionalize children born with this diagnosis. Today, we have a better grasp on how to surgically correct heart and gastrointestinal issues that are common with children born with Down syndrome.”

She said modern Early Intervention services also provide physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and special instruction for youngsters such as Preston.

“We don’t throw in the towel and give up on them, we watch them thrive,” she said. “It really is an exciting time for people born with a Down syndrome diagnosis.”

Jennifer Taylor admitted that she and her husband were frightened when Preston came into the world three and a half years ago.

“I had a picture of a child who could not talk, have friends and have a fulfilling life,” she said.   Glad to report I was totally wrong … Preston will accomplish all of the milestones that any ‘typical’ child will, it just might take him a little bit longer to get there.”

Jennifer Taylor said her son has mastered walking and is working hard with his speech. He is also well-known and loved by children and adults in the community, and is adored by his 8-year-old sister, Kierstin.

“They have their little spats, mostly about him getting into her things, or her trying to kiss him when he doesn’t want her to, but at the end of the day they love each other so much,” Jennifer Taylor said of her children. “We all are a stronger family for having Preston in our lives. We work together and have a lot of fun in the process.”

Jennifer Taylor said that even with the noted improvements for those diagnosed with Down syndrome, there are people, professionals and doctors who have not evolved with the times.

“This is one of the reasons the abortion rate for babies with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome is 90 percent,” she said. “That means for every baby born with Down syndrome there are nine others who were aborted. This statistic has always saddened me.”

Locally, the Taylors have helped connect families of these special people through the Down Syndrome Family Group for McKean County and surrounding areas. The group meets socially a few times a year and has a private group set up on Facebook. She said the group is currently trying to plan a Christmas Party and hopes to organize the second annual Down Syndrome Awareness calendar for 2016.

For more information, send emails to jennifermtaylor@verizon.net.

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