Marty Williams of Hermiston lives a normal life

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Life goes on with Down syndrome

By TAMMY MALGESINI   October 3, 2015

A Down syndrome diagnosis once meant life in an institution, but a culture change has allowed more developmentally disabled people to live a normal life.
October is National Down Syndrome Month
Marty Williams of Hermiston, who has Down syndrome, checks the price of a cleaning product at his job at Smitty’s Ace Hardware store Monday in Hermiston. Williams has worked at the hardware store for the last 10 years. Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Marty Williams of Hermiston, who has Down syndrome, checks the price of a cleaning product at his job at Smitty’s Ace Hardware store Monday in Hermiston. Williams has worked at the hardware store for the last 10 years. Staff photo by E.J. Harris

With old-school beliefs still prevalent in 1966 when Barb Williams gave birth to Marty, a son with Down syndrome, people questioned why he wasn’t sent away.

“‘You mean they let you bring that home?’” Williams recalled a teacher saying to her.

“Then one time, a Sunday school teacher said, ‘Didn’t they tell you that you should put that child in an institution?”” said Martin Williams, Barb’s husband.

Martin started reading about Down syndrome, educating himself on the genetic disorder caused by a chromosomal abnormality. When Marty was a youngster, Martin said statistics suggested upwards of 95-97 percent were sent to institutions to live.

A handful of doctors during a consultation in Boise even told Barb that Marty would just be a vegetable. She dug in, determined she would prove them wrong.

When the couple insisted their plans didn’t include the institutionalization of Marty — who is now 48 — a doctor told the couple to take him home and love him.

And love him they did. The couple included Marty in family activities, community outings and life in general — even moving to Hermiston in 1970 where support services and opportunities would be greater for their middle child.

In the early days, a priest told Martin that his family would be blessed by having Marty in their home.

“For us, it changed our lives,” Martin said. “They have all kinds of things to offer the world.”

Martin, who worked much of his career in education, including special education, said things changed dramatically with Public Law 94-142.

Passed in 1975, the law — AKA Education of All Handicapped Children Act and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act — guaranteed free and appropriate public education to each child with a disability.

“Really wonderful things happened,” Martin said. “Instead of being segregated, they were integrated.”

Life with Marin

Angela and Jay Bonzani of Pendleton have benefited from the changing beliefs and attitudes regarding Down syndrome. When their daughter, Marin, was born two years ago, they immediately scoured the Internet and connected with a support group in the Tri-Cities. Later, they started a group in Hermiston.

The youngest of seven children, Marin’s developmental stages, Angela said, are much the same but in slow motion.

“We get to experience every step to the fullest and celebrate every milestone we may have missed with the others because they happened so fast,” Bonzani said.

Marin happily pounded the keys on an electric piano recently during The Arc Music Awareness Activity Night. When several others gathered around and were taking photos, the 2-year-old hammed it up for the camera. Taking the experience in, her attention soon turned to another toddler playing a piano across the room. She smiled and then refocused on plucking keys and buttons on her keyboard.

Bonzani said Marin’s siblings dote on her, as well as model behaviors.

“It’s the best therapy for her,” Bonzani said.

Marty Williams grows up

Martin and Barb Williams are pleased with their son’s progress and ability to be independent. (…)

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