Advocates for Arianna: Federal Way girl promotes Down syndrome acceptance

Arianna Graham, 5, spreads ‘Love Landings’ throughout October.

If you look carefully during your socially-distanced walks around town, you may stumble upon Arianna Graham’s special token waiting to be found by you.

Federal Way resident Arianna, 5, and her family are bringing joy, awareness and acceptance to the Federal Way community this month for National Down Syndrome Awareness with daily Love Landings.

Love Landings are wooden signs, attached with information about Down syndrome, randomly placed around Federal Way for other residents to find. The signs say “dream,” “peace” and “hope,” complete with a butterfly theme. This month’s signs say “love.”

Signs are placed every day in October and from March 1-21, as long as health and weather permits. The family also places signs whenever boredom strikes, or when news is a bit too bleak.

Arianna’s family calls her their butterfly due to her love for socializing, but also because she’s undergoing a transformation. Arianna, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome before birth and adopted by the Graham family soon after arriving, is taking a bit more time developmentally, similar to the slow and steady transformation of a caterpillar, her mother said.

“She’s shown us that slowing down is OK,” Andrea Graham said. “We have great hopes that Arianna will learn to advocate for herself and be an adult with Down syndrome that’s going to rock our world.”

The butterflies also have three painted lines in the middle of them, representing the third copy of the 21st chromosome that all people with Down syndrome have.

“The whole point is this is for a random person to find it and hopefully get a piece of information about Down syndrome … and gain some acceptance from that person to see she’s just a little girl that happens to have an extra chromosome,” Andrea Graham said.

Now in her second year of the Love Landings, the family has taken a slightly different approach to placing signs in less busy areas — as an adventure for community members and as a precaution to keep Arianna healthy.

Graham previously told the Mirror that while October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, her family’s goal is to promote acceptance in the awareness, for Arianna and for others with Down syndrome.

At just 5 years old, Arianna has hit some major milestones.

This year, she became a 2020 ambassador for Nothing Down, an organization that aims to change the narrative and work with the medical community to ensure every parent is delivered their child’s Down syndrome diagnosis with compassion, up-to-date education, proper resources and hope, according to their website.

To kick off October, Arianna’s photo was featured on a billboard in New York’s Times Square for a National Down Syndrome Society video presentation. Thousands of photos were submitted, and Arianna, representing the Pacific Northwest, was one of just 500 selected.

She was also featured in her first book titled “I Am Arianna,” written by Andrea Graham and edited by her father Mike. The book was published on March 21, a date which is also recognized as World Down Syndrome Day.

Geared toward kids and families, the children’s book aims to show Arianna, or any other person with Down syndrome, is more alike to peers their age than different, Andrea Graham said. A few schools in Washington and Arizona will be reading this book to classes this month, she added.

Arianna, who is homeschooled, has been quarantined since October last year as the cold and flu season crept in, soon morphing into a much more dangerous disease season.

Arianna has a weakened immune system, and recently, she was diagnosed with glycogen storage disease, a rare metabolic disease in which her body is unable to break down or handle sugars well, Graham said.

“She gets sicker easier, and when she gets sick, she gets hard and fast sick,” she said.

Last autumn, Arianna was rushed to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital as she became dangerously ill prior to her diagnosis.

Preoccupied with her daughter’s health, Graham made a social media post notifying the community of her condition and explaining the hiatus of her 2019 October Love Landings. The Federal Way locals brought in a wave of support for the family with concern, questions and well wishes.

“As a mom, I hope people would notice because we’re advocating for Arianna until she can advocate for herself,” she said. “But I didn’t realize how much people looked forward to it until we didn’t post.”

While Arianna recovered, a few people found their own signs to place around the community in her honor.

Her most recent Love Landing was placed at City Hall on a sunny October Monday, which also allowed Arianna to see her friends at the Federal Way Police Department.

A couple of years ago, the Graham family decided to support the FWPD at a local running event in support of the WA Special Olympics. While Arianna was too young to participate in the Special Olympics just yet, “I thought, you know what, they’re running for her future,” Andrea Graham said.

The Graham’s continued to support FWPD and familiarize Arianna with officers in uniform at events such as Courtesy Cop grocery bagging, the recent socially-distanced ice cream social and more.

Along with the flashing lights and sirens of a police car, Arianna fell in love with officers behind the badges, her mother said.

Fostering a positive relationship with Federal Way’s police force holds a two-fold benefit, Graham says.

“Arianna’s a runner,” she said. Also commonly called an “eloper” in the disability community, Arianna is an escape artist when there’s any open doors or open gates nearby. “We want her to be a familiar face to officers so that if she were to take off and we somehow missed it, they know who we’re talking about. And for her to know they are safe people.”

Introducing Arianna to police officers helps create the image of “good guys,” should she ever need or be approached by officers in the future. What started as a safety precaution has turned into a strong friendship.

Recently, Arianna submitted a video to the National Down Syndrome Society for “I Want To Be” career day. Wearing her own police uniform and a proud smile, Arianna presented her future career dream.

“We want our community to see Arianna as a little girl in Federal Way and she just happens to have Down syndrome,” Andrea Graham said.

Arianna is the baby of the family and of her seven siblings. The Graham family is working to change the conversion and mindset about a Down syndrome diagnosis to see what a blessing it is.

“Part of why we advocate so hard is because maybe families will say ‘hey, look at Arianna, she’s not suffering, she’s living life to the fullest, and doing great things.’”

On Tuesday night, Arianna and her mother accepted the proclamation of Down Syndrome Awareness Month at the Federal Way City Council meeting.

“It’s exciting because again it’s not just our community, but city officials are seeing it as a necessary thing,” she said. “It’s part of Arianna’s story that as she grows up, she’ll see not only that her family stood behind her, but her city stood behind her as well.”

Photo courtesy of Andrea GrahamArianna Graham’s photo was shown in New York’s Time Square for the National Down Syndrome Society video presentation kicking off Down Syndrome Awareness Month of October.

Photo courtesy of Andrea Graham Arianna Graham’s photo was shown in New York’s Time Square for the National Down Syndrome Society video presentation kicking off Down Syndrome Awareness Month of October.