Almost 5-year-old Ariana Graham still cannot sit in one place. She loves exploring and airplanes, and stops to stare every time she sees one flying overhead.
As soon as she’s in the Mirror’s conference room and on her feet, she makes a beeline for the door and tries to open it. Her older sister stops her, much to Ariana’s chagrin.
She doesn’t want to stay in one place. It’s been that way her whole life.
In fact, her bubbly personality and energy landed her a competing position in the Miss Exceptional pageant in Tacoma on Oct.19. She won two titles: Miss Supreme Princess and Miss Exceptional Petite.
In a Facebook post, Ariana’s mother wrote that she hoped this pageant would show Ariana how worthy and beatiful she is, regardless of her Down syndrome diagnosis.
“In a perfect world, beauty and popularity would not be based on perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect makeup, flashiest clothes, popularity, how much money you have, ‘normal’ amount of chromosomes, your ability to speak with clarity or what kind of lifestyle you lead,” Andrea Graham said. “Beauty is what is within you and how you treat those around you.”
Ariana is the Mirror’s Citizen of the Month for October because of everything she and her family are doing to promote Down syndrome awareness and acceptance.
To help accomplish this goal, Ariana and her mother have several different wooden signs they place around Federal Way.
The signs say “dream,” “peace,” “love”, and ‘hope’ and they all have painted butterflies on them, because Ariana is her family’s little social butterfly.
The butterflies also have three painted lines in the middle of them, representing the third copy of the 21st chromosome all people with Down syndrome have.
“In March we’ve done the ‘love’ signs … the ‘love’ signs were for world Down syndrome day and we did them for 21 days leading up to March 21,” Graham said. “The dream signs are for what we call Down Syndrome Acceptance Month.”
Graham said that while October is Down syndrome Awareness Month, she believes everyone is already aware, so her family’s goal is to promote acceptance in the awareness, for Ariana and for others with Down syndrome.
“She is a person first and her diagnosis second,” Graham said.
Her family’s lives have been blessed with Ariana’s relentless energy and happy-go-lucky spirit from the day she was born.
The Grahams were part of an adoption community that were specifically seeking to adopt children born with Down syndrome. They are also working to break down some of the stereotypes that are still held in society about children and people with Down syndrome.
“We do the ‘dream’ signs because we want the world to see that we have dreams and hopes for Ariana … we have true dreams for her and I think she’s going to blow us away with what she can do,” Graham said. “We want the world to see that it’s not just a diagnosis, it’s a life for her that’s amazing.”
Graham said that even today, the first thing that many expectant mothers hear when they find our their baby may have Down syndrome is, “I’m so sorry.”
Graham wants to stop this. Having Down syndrome is not a death sentence, she said.
While Graham said it is up to each mother to decide what is best for her and her unborn child in any circumstance, including a Down syndrome diagnosis, she wants to make people aware that getting this diagnosis does not mean your child will not have a quality life.
She said Ariana is proof of this.
Since she was adopted, she has gone on to do many wonderful things.
Graham said she is incredibly intelligent, learning faster every day. She is also an explorer, and given the chance she would take off on adventures every day.
Down syndrome is not holding Ariana back at all.
Many people with Down syndrome go on to lead incredibly fulfilling lives, even if they may be behind their peers in certain areas.
That’s why Graham says she doesn’t think her family will ever stop placing the wooden sings around the city.
“We don’t see ourselves as really stopping,” she said. “We may change things up because we’re almost out of dream signs… we’re looking for other ideas.”
Graham said she also views these signs as a way to help combat the recent violence in the community, referencing the past shootings in Federal Way.
“In November, until we run out of ‘peace’ signs, we’re going to place ‘peace’ signs at the four places that we know of so far that have had shootings,” she said. “We just want to put a message of peace within our community because we believe it starts with us.”
To nominate someone who works or lives in Federal Way for the Mirror’s Citizen of the Month, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.