Down Syndrome Advocate Oakley Peterson on How Her Son's Diagnosis Changed Her Family
Oakley Peterson approaches life from the sunny side of things.
The busy mother of three — a self-proclaimed "Yellow, fun-haver" personality type — radiates positivity and urges people to celebrate the pros in all areas of life, but especially when it comes to the upsides of parenting a child with Down syndrome.
"I'm just living a really optimistic, happy life, enjoying the unpredictability that our son has taught us," Peterson, 34, tells PEOPLE of 7-year-old Welles, who has Down syndrome. "We get to live life to a fuller degree because of that [and] learn from the unpredictability — to make joy out of it and to find your family's happiness in the different curve balls that life throws you."
Since having Welles, Peterson (who is also mom to Ames, 4, and Scarlett, 8), has become a prominent advocate in the Down syndrome community, by way of her honest and celebratory Instagram handle, "NothingDownAboutIt."
"There's a responsibility and a vulnerability that you put out there, being in this role, because you want to change the hearts and minds of society," Peterson explains of her decision to share their family's highs, lows and everything in-between. "So that society will come to accept our kids, so they'll offer them jobs, so that teachers will want them in their classrooms."
"We'll go the extra mile so that parents will talk to their kids about inclusion and loving people with all abilities," she adds.
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The Utah-based advocate says it's important for her to share as much as she can about her family's journey, everything from early fears about Welles' diagnosis to victories great and small, so that other parents of children with special needs won't feel alone on their own journeys.
"Social media has changed the way people are able to view these things because they're not hearing about that diagnosis from a doctor who's not living it, who can only tell you the risks, the cons, the hard parts, the health stuff, the probabilities of what could be in your future," she says. "But they're not living it. They're not telling you that kid's going to give you more hugs and kisses than any other child, that kid's going to change hearts everywhere they go."
Peterson tells PEOPLE that being a part of the Down syndrome community is a daily blessing.
"We all went through a process of grief because of the unknowns, because of the lack of information and resources, especially when we all have these babies," she says about herself and other close friends and advocates who are also parents of kids with Down syndrome.
For more on Peterson and other groundbreaking Down syndrome advocates and parents, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
RELATED VIDEO: Caterina Scorsone Opens Up About Raising a Child Who Has Down Syndrome
"The fun part [is] that we've all been able to pay it forward and do that for other moms," she continues. "I talk to other moms daily about their child's new diagnosis and tell them they're joining this incredible community and will make friends that you wouldn't have otherwise, that are going to be your lifelong new family."
Peterson loves the fact that she's been able to pay it forward with regard to helping other parents, but does admit there's some extra pressure involved.
"There is more of a responsibility when you have a kid with different abilities," she says. "You have to teach other parents to include your kids — to help change hearts and society, to teach them to love our kids and to be very real and honest and help these moms prepare for some of the battles ahead."
The proud mother adds, "I wouldn't change my son's diagnosis or who he is for all the money in the world, but there are definitely some battles that parents of typical kids aren't going to have to face. It's this responsibility of sharing both sides of this life."
For more information about Down syndrome or to donate to research, education and advocacy efforts, visit globaldownsyndrome.org.
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