My little brother is Downright Perfect
By Jana E. Pye, Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
The new Miss S.C. Sweet Potato Festival Teen, Kinsley Odom, has a platform that she has been an advocate for since she was five years old, and her parents Cathy and Tony brought her beloved little brother Kayden home from the hospital.
“I just loved him from the start,” said Kinsley. “Kayden has always been by my side.”
October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and Kinsley was excited to share the message of promoting awareness for her little brother and his friends that have Down syndrome.
The love the siblings have for each other is adorable, and just as all brothers and sisters includes a healthy amount of back and forth banter.
Kayden, age 9, is quick to sit near his sister and Kinsley, age 15, includes him in all her activities. She has been competing in pageants since the age of three, and in addition to her dance lessons, she is a busy sophomore at West Florence high school and a member of the varsity golf team.
“And Kayden has gone to everything,” said their mother, Cathy.
“He still does,” says Kinsley. “He goes just about everywhere with me now, too.”
“I was five when Kayden was born,” said Kinsley. “We are five years apart. I loved him right away, when they came home from the hospital I picked him up and carried him to my mom –and she was worried I’d drop him and told me to put him down.”
“Kinsley is my sissy,” said Kayden. “I always win.”
“That’s true, you do always win when we play games!” said Kinsley, smiling at him.
Like his big sister, Kayden also likes golf, and is taking lessons now.
He also goes along to her dance lessons – “When she is done, he has his turn,” said Cathy. “And he loves to dance with her!”
At last year’s Miss South Carolina pageant, Kayden was on stage with his sister for a dance she did in honor of her platform. She will bring him on stage with her again this year, something he is very proud of. He especially likes his tap shoes, and takes his dancing just as seriously as his new golf lessons.
When asked if he is proud of his sister winning pageants, he gave an enthusiastic “Yes!” and when asked if his friends think she is pretty, he giggled and said, “Yeah.”
Kayden also agreed that he hoped that she wins Miss America one day.
Kayden’s nickname for his sister is “Sissy”…and also “Mine.”
“If I don’t answer to Sissy, he says “Mine,” and if I don’t answer that, he calls me Kinsley. That’s when I know I better answer.”
“Nobody can touch her,” said Cathy. “Like if we go out to a restaurant.”
“He’s very protective,” said Kinsley with a grin. The family said that Kayden always has to sit next to his sister, and loves when she reads him books, and makes him snacks.
The family has one pet, a Daschund named Marley, but Kayden is quite empathic that he does not want another dog – “No, ma’am.”
Kinsley laughed. “Kayden and Marley are not the best of friends.”
When Kinsley first told her parents that she wanted Down Syndrome Awareness to be her platform, they thought it was great. “I asked her, are you sure this is what you want? And she was; it’s been her platform ever since.”
Kinsley’s passion for Down syndrome awareness is infectious; when she talked about it on stage at the St. John’s Auditorium when she was crowned the Teen winner, the audience was abuzz. The recent commercial for the family auto dealer Pee Dee Auto Sales features Kinsley with Kayden and some of his friends, which will be shown for the remainder of the month on local tv stations.
“The reason I chose this as my platform first of all, it’s supposed to be something that is important to you and something you want to grow and share,” said Kinsley. “So that is why I did my little brother, because it’s personal and I can talk about it without getting emotional like I’m going to cry – because it’s benefiting him and others just like him.”
One goal that Kinsley has to eradicate the “R” word from schools.
“I want to get in schools and spread the word…about the “R” word because people say that a lot each day and don’t realize what the true meaning of it is. And at the same time, you never know who is walking past you. When I hear someone say that, I just want to turn around and say, ‘You don’t need to say that, that’s a cuss word.’ But sometimes it’s hard to do that. So I want to take a banner to all the schools and have the kids sign it to show they are not going to say that word-and hopefully that’ll end that word being said in schools.”
Kinsley said that younger students are not the only ones that need to be reminded about not saying that word, too.
“There are colleges that have programs for special needs, like Clemson has a really good program, and those college kids are walking around and saying that – I know that those college Down Syndrome and autistic kids know what they are talking about. I know it takes a stab at them when they hear them say it.”
Her research for her platform has been noticed by her former health teacher, who asked Kinsley to share with her peers at a health class on birth disorders and disabilities in November.
“What really shocked me when I was doing research about it before I ever made it my platform, is that there are 400,000 people just in the U.S. with Down syndrome; and that really shocked me because I knew it wasn’t rare, but I didn’t think there were that many people with it because when you look in Florence, you don’t see many. This is mostly because the parents with Down syndrome kids would keep their kids at home, because they don’t know how society will act towards them. One out of every 690 children are born with Down syndrome. We need more programs in schools to help them; Kayden only gets an hour in a group, so my parents take him to his own private therapy sessions. What about the kids that don’t get therapy one-on-one outside of school? When they are on their own, they are not going to know what to do. They are not going to have as good a speech as my little brother does, because he sees a speech therapist almost every day after school.”
Kayden has sessions of speech, occupational (OT) and physical (PT) therapy each week.
“You really have to advocate for it,” said Cathy. “He didn’t get speech until he was three years old, and that was with us pushing hard for it.”
In addition to the commercial, Kinsley has been promoting Down syndrome awareness on Carolina and Company, the Ken Ard radio show, the Bliss Ball, and will participate in the Backpacks for Kids program at Royal Elementary, Treats for Kids, a Halloween and Bowling events for her brother’s classroom, and the Buddy Walk for Down Syndrome Awareness Month in Columbia on October 25 at Sesquicentennial Park in Columbia.
For Halloween, the siblings will be Dorothy and the Tin Man. No word on whether Marley the dog will be allowed to be Toto, though. Kayden wouldn’t mind if she just stays home.
But, like the Tin Man, Kayden has a huge heart and is just happy to be by his favorite girl’s side.
You may contact Miss SC Sweet Potato Queen Kaitlyn Odom through the Facebook account: Miss SC Sweet Potato Festival and Sweet Potato Festival Teen.
Buddy Walk in Columbia
Family Connection of South Carolina will host its 16th Annual Columbia Buddy Walk on Sunday, October 25, during National Down Syndrome Awareness Month at Sesquicentennial State Park located at 9564 Two Notch Road, Columbia, SC 29223. This is a day to celebrate the Down syndrome community and to promote acceptance and inclusion. As more people are introduced to and interact with individuals with Down syndrome, barriers fall, prejudices diminish and doors open. The event is FREE and includes bounce houses, food, games, music and lots of fun!
About Down Syndrome
Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition and is caused by a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21. People with Down syndrome are living longer, happier and healthier lives than ever before; they are attending school, working and contributing to society in many wonderful ways.
The National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) is a nonprofit organization committed to being the national advocate for the value, acceptance, and inclusion of people with Down syndrome. NDSS envisions a world in which all people with Down syndrome have the opportunity to enhance their quality of life, realize their life aspirations, and become valued members of welcoming communities. NDSS has over 350 affiliates nationwide. Find them online at: www.ndss.org
Local NDSS office: Family Connection State Office: 1800 St. Julian Place, Suite 104, Columbia, SC 29204 Telephone: 800-578-8750 www.familyconnectionsc.org
Darlington County Disability and Special Needs Board provides services for individuals and families with a child with disabilities such as Down syndrome. Contact them at DCDSNB 201 Damascus Church Rd, Hartsville, SC 29550 Telephone: 843-332-7252 or online at: www.dcdsnb.org.