Archana Jayaram has cycled in the Olympics, plays basketball and has even acted in a movie. She is now an assistant teacher in a school. She has Down Syndrome, but that doesn’t deter her, writes Vaibhav Shastry

She watches the ‘Asku Laska’ song from the movie Nanban on her iPad and hums along. “Vijay is my favourite actor,” she says and immediately breaks into another song, ‘Vangana Vanakkangana’ from his latest release, Thalaivaa.

The mood is light hearted, as she opens up about her achievements. She has participated in the Special Olympics, acted in a movie, gone ice skating in Kuwait, plays basketball regularly and nurses ambitions of walking the ramp soon.

These may be aspirations common to any young woman, but for 28-year-old Archana Jayaram, who has Down Syndrome, these achievements have greater significance.

“I am a completely healthy, normal and beautiful woman,” she says as she does the catwalk, in her own style. Archana works as an assistant teacher at Sri Prashanthi Academy, a school for intellectually challenged children, and has become a role model even for able children and parents.

This confidence is largely thanks to her mother Annapoorna Jayaram, who runs the school. But the road has not been easy.

Annapoorna first noticed that all was not well with her daughter when she was three months old. Archana was not very responsive, did not have the normal curiosity associated with a toddler and would fall sick often.

“I was in Chennai then, and consulted a doctor for her recurring cold. As the doctor started probing for a few more symptoms, an entirely new revelation came out,” she says. Archana was diagnosed with symptoms typical of Down Syndrome. Annapoorna was shaken. “I was 21 at the time and had heard that this happens to older parents. But I had to start looking forward and look at the positives for Archana,” says Annapoorna.

A few years later, the family moved to Kuwait, where it was hard for Archana to get admission into regular schools. “There were hardly any schools for children with special needs. Working parents, who had children with disabilities, would lock them up in the house and completely isolate them,” she says. As she grew older, people would look at Archana strangely, and some would pass unsavoury comments about her appearance. “I always advised her to ignore those people, as they had no idea what she was going through,” says Annapoorna.

Annapoorna then started her own school in Kuwait, where Archana and other children like her could get together and play for a couple of hours every day.

She also started teaching them the basics of math, languages and fundamentals of other subjects. More crucial life skills such as cognitive, social, gross and motor skills, perception of time and personal hygiene were added to the curriculum as time went by.

Annapoorna then came to Coimbatore in 2006 and started the Sri Prashanthi Academy here. Her husband, P.K. Jayaram joined as a trustee and gives them technical support.

Archana participated in the Special Olympics in Athens in 2011 and bagged a gold and bronze in cycling, competing with 192 other athletes. She has also acted in a movie Indelible, which had inspiring stories of seven achievers with Down Syndrome. Her younger sister, Ramya, who is pursuing her Master’s in Early Childhood Unified from Kansas University, dotes on her and regularly chats with her over Skype. Archana has also been on the Skycoaster, an extreme amusement ride in Denver.

“She can whip up a tasty biryani, tomato rice and make soft idlis too. I have set up a store for her, where she sells nightwear to ladies. She can now recognise different patterns in each dress and calculate money,” Annapoorna says with pride.

Archana sinks into her iPad again, singing along to ‘Thaniye Thananthaniye’ and breaks into a dance. “My father will teach me how to ride a scooter next,” she says.

Coping with Down Syndrome

Go in for genetic counselling. This will determine through genetic test, if you or your baby are at risk of genetic disorders

Go through a systematic program of therapy, exercises and activities to address any developmental delays in children with Down syndrome. Do this when the child is between 0 and 2 years of age

Accept the children and include them into your daily activities