Avery Vasta is a preschooler at Central Primary in Gonzales. When she hears music, she has to stop and dance, and she’s free with hugs and kindness, making her a favorite at school and everywhere she goes. She loves Moana and Elena of Avalor. Avery, who is five, is different in only one way. She has Down Syndrome.
Avery is in a regular PreK class, and her mom, Kayla, says the inclusiveness is the best thing ever. “Her peers love her, and they’re amazing with her,” Kayla says. “She’s taught them a lot.”
Emery, Avery’s big sister, is six and a first grader at the same school. “Emery doesn’t know there’s anything different with her sister,” Kayla says. “We treat them both the same.”
Avery learned to walk when she was three, and such developmental delays are typical with Down Syndrome. “She’s going to do everything in her time, and she’s going to reach her milestones in her time,” Kayla says. In her work as a parent ambassador with nonprofit Upside Downs, Kayla encourages families: “They’re going to do it in their own time, and you are going to appreciate it so much more.”
Discovering Avery’s condition happened early in Kayla’s pregnancy and was a scary time in the family’s life. Marshall St. Amant, MD, walked with Kayla and her husband, Thomas, during the high-risk pregnancy. Kayla remembers Dr. St. Amant saying, “Avery’s journey had already been determined by God, and we had to just walk the path.”
With a blood test, they found out Avery had an extra copy of chromosome 21. Trisomy 21, commonly known as Down Syndrome, is compatible with life and is the most common chromosomal anomaly. About 5,000 babies are born with Down Syndrome in the U.S. each year.
Kayla was monitored throughout the rest of her pregnancy. “We watched, and every ultrasound, things got worse before it got better,” she says. The possible heart problems and other complications led them to prepare for palliative care after the delivery.
Once Avery was born, she was OK. “Her heart was completely normal,” Kayla says. “We were just left with an extra chromosome.” Avery is still healthy. She wears glasses and is in the process of getting hearing aids. Her ears are her main concern, and she’s had eight sets of tubes already.
Avery can sometimes attract stares from other kids, and Kayla wants them to know, “It’s OK. She’s just like you, she has Down Syndrome.” Kayla encourages questions instead of stares and says special needs parents don’t get offended. “It’s OK for parents to teach their kids about special needs.”
Avery is a natural in front of the camera as a brand representative for Matilda Jane Clothing and a Baton Rouge Parents Magazine 2018-19 Cover Kid. “I’m proud of her. I’m proud of everything about her,” Kayla says.
Avery is building a legacy of love, starting in her family and reaching out to everyone she meets. “Avery’s teaching us most about how to love,” Kayla says. “She’s taught us a whole lot about patience and love.” ■