Ryan, 6, is a natural child model, sporting blond hair, blue eyes and all-American confidence. But he also has Down syndrome, which is unusual in the worlds of modeling and national advertising.
Target cast Ryan in its latest children’s clothing ad, and Nordstrom featured him in a campaign several months ago. Notably, Target did not publicize his inclusion; there were no self-congratulatory press releases or pats on the back, signaling that Ryan’s presence in the catalog was nothing out of the ordinary.
The move was praised on the blog Noah’s Dad, which is penned by a father of a special-needs child. He deemed the ad an inspiration to counter false stereotypes and look at people with fresh eyes, and lauded Target for not making a big deal out of Ryan’s casting.
Down syndrome stems from a genetic abnormality in which an extra copy of the 21st chromosome is produced. The condition affects more than 400,000 people in the U.S. and can be marked by cognitive delays, intellectual disabilities and increased risk of other medical conditions. Many of those afflicted with Down complete school and hold jobs, often with the help and support of family and friends.
Over the years, Hollywood has made halting strides in representing adults with Down syndrome onscreen. Many will fondly recall the character Corky from Life Goes On, played by Chris Burke. Today Lauren Potter is a member of the Glee cast, playing a cheerleader with Down syndrome.
While many view the condition as a deficiency, Ryan shows that he can ham it up for the camera just as well as his peers. And in November, 1-year-old Taya Kennedy made headlines when she charmed the modeling world and was signed by a prestigious British agency. Taya also has Down syndrome.
The more people with special needs are portrayed in pop culture and advertising, the closer we can get to recognizing and accepting those with disabilities as part of the fabric of everyday society. So perhaps the real story will be when this is not a story at all.
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