Brittany Has Down Syndrome. And She’s an Entrepreneur, Too.
Each year, about 6,000 babies are born in the United States with Down syndrome. That’s about one in 700 births.
The first thing parents often hear when doctors reveal the news is "I'm sorry."
Brittany Schiavone wants to flip that script.
"There are lots of babies with Down syndrome out there in the world, and I want them and their families to have hope."
“We don’t say ‘I’m sorry,’ ” says Schiavone, a 31-year-old who herself has Down syndrome. “We say 'Congratulations!' ”
For four years, Schiavone has worked with family and friends to run Brittany’s Baskets of Hope from her Long Island, New York, basement. The nonprofit aims to comfort and support new parents of children with Down syndrome, as well as educate the public about diverse communities of people who have Down syndrome.
Down Right Perfect
Brittany’s Baskets has, to date, delivered more than 1,200 baskets of “hope” to families in every state. Each package includes everything from baby clothing to handmade blankets and “heart hero” hats — little red hats as a sign of support for kids who have Down syndrome, as they are more likely to have heart conditions. The baskets also include children’s books, educational materials on Down syndrome, and a onesie that reads “Down Right Perfect.”
“People with Down syndrome can do anything — really, really anything,” says Schiavone, repeating the phrase that has become the organization’s motto. It’s a lesson she hopes to impart to new parents, some who become discouraged after thinking their kids may have a childhood that is different from many others and face negative stereotypes.
"We don’t say ‘I’m sorry.’ We say congratulations!"
Down syndrome is named after the English doctor John Langdown Down, who identified it in 1862. The name refers to a genetic condition in which a person is born with three copies of chromosome 21 instead of two. According to the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, 38% of Americans know someone with Down syndrome, and it is “the most frequently occurring chromosomal disorder and the leading cause of intellectual and developmental delay in the U.S. and in the world.”
But that doesn’t always translate to widespread education about it. According to the foundation, “there is a major lack of funding for research benefiting people with Down syndrome, even compared to other conditions and diseases,” as well as a lack of knowledge among those who do not know someone with Down syndrome. The foundation’s guide to Down syndrome says that “personal accounts and studies show that many families that have a child with Down syndrome are stable, successful and happy,” despite stereotypes and hurdles for new parents unfamiliar with the condition.
Giving Hope to Families
Through the small but lasting gestures of her baskets, Schiavone hopes to do her part to change these trends.
Her nonprofit launched in 2016, but Schiavone actually conceived of the idea two years earlier. While on her break from a job in retail, she saw a YouTube video about babies with Down syndrome and efforts to help them. Inspired, she came home and told her parents she wanted to do a project of her own.
“I wanted to do it so badly,” says Schiavone. “My heart wanted it. I knew I was making the right decision. There are lots of babies with Down syndrome out there in the world, and I want them and their families to have hope.”
Parents find Schiavone through her website and Instagram and via word-of-mouth. Each month, Schiavone, her family, and friends come together for “packing parties” to put together the boxes to ship. The team includes her brother Justin, her parents, Rocco and Susan, and a friend named Ashley Asti.
“We read stories about the babies on the request forms we get and then we put together the baskets,” says Brittany. “It’s really fun to get together with my family to put the baskets together.”
Her mother, Susan, says she hopes Brittany’s Baskets of Hope will help parents be more comfortable with and educated about Down syndrome than she was when her daughter was born in 1989.
“When we had a diagnosis with Brittany at birth, we were overwhelmed,” recalls Susan. “You expect to go down one path with your baby and are given a turn. It takes time, as you are not sure what to expect of your life or your baby’s life. Brittany is helping new parents adjust more easily to the fact that your child’s life will be just fine.”