Huntsville family shares how raising multiple children with Down syndrome has changed their lives

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - According to DoSomething.org, one in four families are impacted by Down syndrome across the United States.

Families who raise children with Down syndrome know the journey isn't easy but the happiness they bring is worth the struggles.

High school sweethearts Rita and William Andrews always saw themselves with a big family, but when their niece was born, their idea of the "perfect" family changed.

"It just really opened our eyes up to special needs we had always wanted to adopt," said Rita.

The couple first had twins and then adopted a daughter from Guatemala in 2004. When they brought her home they knew she needed a sister.

And Giovanna got way more than just one sister. In total, she now has seven sisters and one brother. Two of her sisters also have Down syndrome.

For Rita and William raising three children with Down syndrome was their calling and they say their faith brought them through the hard times.

Now all of their girls are teenagers and they are beginning to do what teenagers do.

"You know she is in the whole boy thing now, you know she'll turn red as all get out when she starts talking about boys," Rita said.

As the girls get older the obstacles are more than just physical, they are emotional as well - The girls are becoming less accepted by their peers.

"They are not included as much and for me, that just hurts my heart because they are so much more alike to teenagers today than they are different."

Rita wants people to accept them for who they are and what they have to offer.

"They have the same wants. They have the same likes. They desire a lot of the same things," Rita said.

Plus, there is a color and joy the girls bring to the world that makes life a whole lot better.

"The world would be so boring if we didn't have people with Down syndrome because they bring so much excitement," Rita said.

In north Alabama, there are several resources for those who want to learn more.

Merrimack Hall Performing Arts, based in Huntsville, provides visual and performing arts education and cultural activities to children and adults with special needs.

Bringing Up Down Syndrome, based in Madison, works with parents raising children with Down syndrome. They have a Facebook page, too.

The North Alabama Down Syndrome Society, based in Athens, is another resource available to the community. It's located on 16115 Sutton Drive. You can email them at enskat1405@hotmail.com or call them at (256) 434-0800 or (256) 771-1547.

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