There’s something about a wide, open smile that encourages others to like and trust another person.
Riley Baxter was born with one of those smiles. The little boy from Kent, England has been a ray of sunshine since the moment he was born, even though he arrived with a secret that his parents Stuart and Kirsty Baxter were certainly not expecting. Even though nothing showed up on any of Kirsty’s prenatal checkups, Riley was born with Down syndrome.
“We didn’t know he had Down’s Syndrome until after Riley was born, we had the routine blood tests and scans, but they didn’t pick anything up,” said Kirsty. After he was born, however, a nurse picked up on some common signs of Downs. “He had some of the classic tell-tale signs, like the crease in the hand, the spacing of his big toe from the others.”
The Baxters were uncertain how things would go raising a child with Downs, admitting that they were initially upset about how difficult it might be for their son to make his way in the world.
“After we were told he had Down Syndrome I cried, not for the case that I would love him any less but just knowing how cruel the world can be,” Stuart explained. “That was the first thing that went through my mind but obviously my perceptions were wrong, and wow how wrong I was. There was the fear of the unknown and why this had happened to us, but if I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have been upset at all.”
That’s because almost right off the bat, they could tell that Riley was a special person. For starters, that grin that lit up his face was pretty irresistible! He quickly earned the nickname “Smiley Riley.”
“We have called him ‘Smiley Riley’ from a young age, because he makes people really happy and seeing his smile gives people a pick-me-up on a bad day,” Kirsty said.
Riley had his share of struggles when he was younger. He had a hard time learning to feed properly, requiring a tube through is nose to give him the nutrients he needed to survive. He was also completely non-verbal until just recently, but he’s proficient in Makaton sign language and knows an impressive number of signs. Now that he’s 5 he’s able to say short two-word sentences, including “Mommy” and “Daddy.”
Until he was 3 Riley also required a walker to get around, but he’s steadily improving on his feet and is getting stronger every day. “With his walking he has to work twice as hard as anyone else to do what they are doing,” said Stuart. “When he walks a mile it’s like walking two for anyone else, but his determination to keep going is the one thing we constantly see.”
As Riley got older his parents sought out ways to make him feel included in the world, and Riley’s outgoing personality demanded as many challenges as they could provide him. After noticing how much he enjoyed being in front of a camera the Baxters decided to bring him to a modeling agency. He has since signed with Zebedee, a U.K. talent agency that specializes in models with various disabilities.
“Now he’s modelling with Zebedee, he loves the camera, you say pose and he will make this little pout followed by sticking his tongue out,” Stuart said. “In the photoshoots they want the children to act natural and naturally he’s a very happy little boy, so it’s brilliant.”
Riley has already been featured in a number of print advertisements for companies like Mothercare, the Jools Oliver Little Bird range, and more. His parents say he really comes alive in front of the camera, and they love the fact that he’s increasing awareness of Down syndrome and expanding the variety of faces seen in ads these days.
“He enjoys everything he does and does it all with a smile, whenever people see him, they don’t see his disability just him smiling.”
Riley is doing well in school, and all of his classmates adore him even though he’s largely non-verbal. They’ve been very pleased with the way other people treat their son, erasing all of their initial fears about raising a child with Down syndrome.
“If I could go back to that moment and how we felt when we first found out, I would not have been upset at all,” said Riley’s doting dad. “He can do everything anyone else can, it just takes him a little longer and we have enjoyed that more. He has needed us more, so if anything, it’s meant we could give him extra love.
Way to go, Riley! We could look at this gorgeous face all day long, and it seems that we’re not the only ones! This is another great step towards a society that includes every single person who lives here. The more we see smiling faces like Riley’s, the better.
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