Pablo Pineda: Ain’t Nothing Gonna Break My Stride
The first person in Europe with Down Syndrome to complete a university degree is urging parents not to conform to the limits set by society. Pablo Pineda has become a teacher since graduating in 2004 with a BA in Educational Psychology and going on to complete his Diploma in Teaching.
He has become an inspiration to thousands of people across the world, dispelling the myth they have limits because of their condition. Thanking his parents for their love and support in helping him to achieve his dreams, Pineda, now 44, says his aim is to empower other people with Down Syndrome.
He also aims to change awareness in society, as despite his personal success, he admits his career has been beset by a continual struggle against prejudice. He says Down Syndrome is “another personal characteristic” and shouldn’t be viewed by others as a “disease”.
What is Down Syndrome?
Down syndrome is a genetic condition that can cause varying levels of learning disability and certain physical characteristics. It is commonly caused by an extra chromosome in a baby’s cells and isn’t inherited in most cases.
It can be challenging for a family that has a child with Down Syndrome and initially, they may feel overwhelmed, as it may take longer for their child to reach developmental milestones, such as learning to walk and talk.
Healthcare experts suggest the child’s independence should be encouraged from an early age. Teaching them how to feed themselves, get dressed, brush their teeth, use the bathroom and get ready for bed should be taught as normal.
Finding a balance between family life and “special” activities is important – not every activity needs to be educational, as any fun family time can be beneficial.
There’s plenty of support for people with Down Syndrome including good healthcare, a range of specialists, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and support groups, such as the Down’s Syndrome Association. Many people with Down Syndrome leave home, work, have relationships and lead largely independent lives.
Born in 1974, in Malaga, Spain, Pineda attributes much of his success to his upbringing – although he’s quick to stress he isn’t a “special case”, as some organisations have labelled him. He says it makes him angry to hear this because it can deter other people with Down Syndrome from trying.
His mother and late father brought him up as a member of society first, rather than as a child who had Down Syndrome. In an interview with the BBC, he described the “Down world” as going in a “different direction” from what he termed “normal” society.
In fact, he thinks organisations especially for people with Down Syndrome can sometimes be more damaging than useful. Describing his own “fight” to get into society, he says, “I stay with the ‘normal’ ones,” while others live in a “little tiny world”, choosing to join organisations or stay with their parents.
He feels that when he is labelled “special”, it can be an organisation’s way of justifying their own lack of improvement – which can stop other people with Down Syndrome from striving to make a good life for themselves.
Pineda hasn’t let anything hold him back. Prior to becoming a teacher, he also starred in the 2009 film, Yo Tambien, which translates to “me too”. In the film, he plays a university graduate with Down Syndrome – Daniel falls in love with a workmate, Laura, played by Lola Dueñas.
Laura considers herself an outsider, spending her evenings in clubs and singles bars. Yet despite seeming incompatible at first, they strike up a bittersweet friendship that finally leads to happiness for both of them. Pineda won Best Actor Award at the San Sebastian Film Festival.
He said the role of Daniel required “a lot of introspection”, as he found himself reliving some “very difficult moments” from his own life, due to the character’s university achievements mirroring his own. After filming Yo Tambien, Pineda decided not to continue working as an actor.
He said he accepted the movie role simply to empower other people with Down Syndrome and not because he had aspirations to star on the big screen. He wished to change society’s perception of people with Down Syndrome.
He tells other parents that the fact he’s been in a film isn’t too important. What is important is that anyone can reach for the stars, so parents must teach and encourage their children to believe they can do anything.
Since starring in Yo Tambien, Pineda has concentrated on inspiring and helping other people with Down Syndrome. He wrote his first book, El Reto de Aprender, in 2013, reflecting on education, teaching and learning, while recounting his own experiences of the education environment.
He now works with the Adecco Foundation, which is a non-profit organisation formed by the Adecco Group in Spain, whose aim is to promote employment inclusion of all people with a disability who may be at risk of social exclusion.
Pineda has travelled to other countries, including Colombia, teaching others his positive message, encouraging communities across the globe to create employment opportunities for people with Down Syndrome. He feels Spain and Italy are leading the world in this field.
He has also participated in the famous TED Talks – an organisation set up to enable people to make inspirational videos on various topics, including education and business, so that other people can download them free of charge.
Pineda believes anyone who has Down Syndrome can achieve everything they desire when given the correct opportunities. His message to parents, the education system and society as a whole is that everyone can learn. He adds: “Individual limits shouldn’t be set by society, but by the person themselves.”
He said when he first entered university, his classmates were “surprised” initially and this had to be overcome. Once the teachers realised he was just a regular student who didn’t need anything special, he soon became one of the crowd and made friends in all his classes.
He adds: “I got to where I am today because I wanted to get there.”
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