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Barriers come down one workday at a time

The Examiner

Her name is Kirstin. She is 41, beautiful, and a hard worker.

Best of all, when she is working she loves what she does.

Diane Mack

Sometimes, her dad, Don, drives her to work and sometimes her mom, Shirley, does.

Kirstin works at a large department store, normally in women’s clothing. Because she is so capable and so efficient, before her shift ends, she moves over to men’s clothing to help out.

Kirstin is really quite amazing. Do you know why?

It’s because Kirstin has Down syndrome.

Kirsten Carlson, right, was recently honored for 20 years with Walmart.

According to, approximately 6,000 babies are born with Down syndrome each year in the United States. That is one out of every 691 babies, making Down syndrome the most common genetic condition.

When Down syndrome occurs, an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21.

WebMD reports that some of the most common features of the disorder include low muscle tone, flat facial features, small nose, upward slanted eyes, and a single deep crease across the center of the palm and an enlarged tongue.

Heart defects are found in 50% of children with Down syndrome. Some defects are minor, which can be managed with medication, but in some cases the defects require surgery.

According to the National Down Syndrome Society, Down syndrome was first recognized in 1866 by British physician John Langdon Down. He helped to set the condition apart from mental disability by coining the first term used to describe those with Down syndrome

Years ago, many individuals with Down’s syndrome were killed, abandoned or ostracized.

By the time of the discovery of Down syndrome, it was common practice to institutionalize children with this condition. Most times, they were sent away shortly after being born.

The conditions of the institutions were horrible, and the children did not receive the proper medical treatment for complications such as heart disorders, vision and intestinal problems.

Sadly, many children with Down’s syndrome died during childhood or early adulthood.

In 1929, the life expectancy of a child with Down syndrome was 9 years. By 1983, their life expectancy was 25 years. Today, I know individuals with Down syndrome who are 65 and 70.

Children and adults with Down syndrome are wonderful people.

However, it was the rest of the world which was a little screwed up. That is ... historically.

Shame, shame, shame on the U S of A.

But in spite of the rough beginning, there are extraordinary individuals with Down syndrome who push the rest of the non-Down syndrome world forward.

And leading at the front of the pack is Kirstin, Don and Shirley’s adorable daughter who crossed a milestone this year. While institutionalization and poor health care continue to dissipate, individuals like Kirstin break century-long barriers in the workplace.

After graduation, Kirstin was directed to sheltered employment. However, she wanted to work in the community. And that is exactly what Kirstin did. She began working in Clinton, Missouri, at the local Walmart. Mom drove her 27 miles. Remember, breaking barriers takes effort in addition to support from outstanding family members.

When Kirstin’s family moved to Jackson County, Kirstin transferred to the Blue Springs Walmart.

I’ve always thought Dave Kinman was a remarkable manager. But now I am even more impressed.

This is how this works.

First, you combine one amazing talented young woman with one remarkable, open-minded store director.

Then, you toss in two outstanding parent advocates.

The result is a future of endless employment possibilities for all.

Or in Kirstin’s career, the result was an in-store celebration, the presentation of a 20-year pin, two plaques and a cake showcasing her summit of success.

Thanks to her brave, daring, “I can do this” attitude and work ethic, Kirstin led the way for every person with a disability.

Thank you, Kirstin!

Diane Mack is coordinator of Putting Families First, Jackson County's Family Week Foundation. Email her at