Social Worker, Mom Writes Book About Down Syndrome, Disabilities

Abby Schroeder (right) is the author of A Little Extra Love: A Book About Down Syndrome and Disabilities. She is joined by her husband, Erich, and their son Dawson, who inspired her to write the book so that other children can understand why Dawson and others might use medical equipment or different communication techniques. MIRROR PHOTO BY KAREN GERHARDINGER

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Fueled by an after-school snack, 3-year-old Dawson Schroeder gleefully runs and squeals as his dad, Erich, gives chase.

Dawson, who was born with Down syndrome, didn’t walk until 26 months, and he communicates with sign language, but he still loves playing with other kids and fearlessly exploring the world around him, said his mom, Abby.

As she was watching Dawson play with friends last year, Abby realized that many of his typical peers (kids without disabilities) might start wondering, as they get older, why Dawson sometimes wears an eye patch or uses American Sign Language (ASL) or an iPad to communicate. 

“I know he’s not alone. Other kids with disabilities might use a walker, wear a hearing aid or – like his cousin – have a prosthetic leg,” Abby said. 

When Abby couldn’t find a children’s book that explained some of the resources used by kids with disabilities, she decided to write one instead.

A Little Extra Love: A Book About Down Syndrome and Disabilities illustrates some of these tools and techniques, in order to encourage inclusivity.

“Kids might not know the differences until they get older. Then they might look at something – like Dawson’s eye patch or a walker and wonder why. This book gives them something to learn about,” Abby explained. “We also wanted to help kids learn that although we all have differences, we are all more alike than we realize,” she said.

Teaming up with other local families who have children with Down syndrome and other disabilities, Abby used family and individual photos that she turned into renderings using an app. She then added text to explain why the pictured aids and resources are used.

“We wanted to highlight community members who have some sort of disability, such as showing kids with hearing aids or using different therapies and communication devices.”

One section of the book includes photos of Abby’s hands spelling out the alphabet, the numbers 1-10 and five commonly used phrases using American Sign Language (ASL).

“I took American Sign Language as an after-school elective in fourth grade,” recalled Abby. “It’s crazy looking back on that, how it somehow prepared me for life with Dawson.”

Abby, a licensed social worker, is the prevention and community outreach coordinator for the Maumee Police Division and is the director of the Spring Green Education Foundation’s Youth Diversion Program. Erich is a crew leader for Pro Edge Lawn Care. When they found out Abby was pregnant, they had prenatal testing done.

“When we got the bloodwork back, the paperwork said we had a 57-percent chance of having a child with Down syndrome,” Abby said. “The doctor said we could have additional testing, but we chose not to. We figured we would find out when he was born. I think we were more shocked that he came out with red hair than when we found out he had Down syndrome – which is caused by an extra 21st chromosome.”

Often, these babies have heart defects requiring multiple surgeries. While Dawson has a few heart defects, his main challenge is low immunity. When he gets sick, it takes longer for him to heal. He has had two sets of ear tubes put in so far.

“He has lots of therapy: physical, speech and occupational. He has hearing loss and sleep apnea, so he had his tonsils taken out,” Abby said.

The family has found support from a variety of sources, including the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Toledo and Jack’s Basket, which provides a basket with information, tools and gifts to anyone with a Down syndrome diagnosis. At Children’s Discovery Center in Perrysburg, the staff added ASL to their curriculum to help children communicate with Dawson.

Abby is teaming up with these three organizations and other connections to share the self-published, hardcover book, which is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other retailers.

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