Lyn Steele is a remarkable mother of three remarkable sons.
Aaron, 18, has a form of autism, eight-year-old David has Down’s syndrome, and middle son Owen, 13, is progressing through mainstream education.
“They have made my life – and that of my husband Dan – so enriching,” said Lyn as the fanatical rugby family prepared for their trip to see Ulster take on Northampton Saints at the Kingspan Stadium on Friday night.
Lyn told the News Letter of her experiences as a mother to underline her opposition to abortion – adding that the responsibility of bringing up two sons with learning disabilities had helped make her a more compassionate human being.
She added: “There’s so much said and written about the abortion of children diagnosed in the womb with learning difficulties. But our wonderful experiences as parents have totally convinced us against ending lives under any circumstances.
“There is nothing special about us. Bringing up Aaron, then Owen and David, has helped us discover qualities that I suppose we never knew we had. We don’t really think about it. We just get on with it and enjoy the boys. They have made us more compassionate people.”
The Portadown woman knew from the start that Aaron was different. “He attended primary school, had delayed speech, his writing was juvenile, he was something of a loner, his social skills were zero, and he was – still is – a young man of habit.
“Against that, his long-term memory is amazing. He could always read beyond his years – not totally understanding what he had read, it has to be said.”
It wasn’t until he was seven that he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Autistic Spectrum.
Aaron is in training for a job in the catering world through the Southern Regional College. He is on work experience at two local restaurants and sees his future as a ‘front-of-house’ staff or in retail.
“It has made such a difference to him,” said his mum. “His social skills have been transformed.”
David, meanwhile, is a happy-go-lucky character, typical of children who have Down’s syndrome, and living life for the day.
On Friday night he and Owen were in the guard of honour at Kingspan cheered on by a big pre-season crowd.
Lyn was 38 when David was born and was offered tests for Down’s. The odds increase with age “but there was no point in undergoing tests, I’ll never believe in abortion under any circumstances”.
Blood tests confirmed the extra chromosome associated with Down’s. It affects so many aspects of their lives – delayed development and physical characteristics.
Lyn (a former civil servant but now a full-time mother) said that the original diagnosis by the medical world “was not terribly sensitive”.
David has full access to the curriculum at his local Bocombra Primary School and is progressing at a slower pace through his reading and numeracy.
“He takes the scenic route and won’t be rushed, he’s a charmer and something of a chancer, but makes friends at the drop of a hat, is happy-go lucky and can be thran when he takes the notion!”
With so much attention focused on Aaron and David, their parents are extremely careful to give Owen his share of family affection and plenty of one-to-one time.
Lyn said: “I recently read that Denmark, for example, is determined to wipe out Down’s syndrome through abortion within a few years. And some of the literature on children with learning difficulties from America is plain scary.
“We’re so enjoying bringing up this special family and I see those attitudes are tantamount to genocide.”