Baton Rouge mom seeks social network for Down syndrome children _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Gabriella Gaudet, 14, concentrates on painting her bird house, during the art class taught by her mother Annette Gaudet Saturday at the Down Syndrome conference at the Renaissance Hotel.

Annette Gaudet’s 14-year-old daughter, Gabby, has Down syndrome and doesn’t often make it out of the house.

“She doesn’t have many friends, and I wanted to change that,” Gaudet said Saturday at an art workshop she organized for people with Down syndrome.

While the get-together was part of the second annual Down Syndrome Conference in Baton Rouge, Gaudet plans to begin hosting similar workshops at least once a month.

The goal, she said, is to build a social network for people with mental disabilities.

“For me, art has always been an outlet for stress and anxiety,” Gaudet said. “And I think it can help here, too.”

On Saturday, about a dozen people filed into a dimly lit conference room at the Renaissance Hotel on Bluebonnet Boulevard for a lesson on mixing primary colors.

Wooden birdhouses lined a pair of tables, alongside sponge-tipped paintbrushes and paper plates dolloped with red, blue and yellow paint.

Gaudet asked the beginning painters to name their favorite colors and encouraged them to chase the perfect blend.

“Pink!” Gabby said, before applying a rosy coat to the roof of her birdhouse.

Within a few minutes, the tables were abuzz with conversation, ranging from music to breakfast food preferences.

Ryan Holm, 31, came to the workshop with his brother Shane. Both have Down syndrome. At first, Ryan complained to his tablemates about the loss of his iPhone, a casualty of a recent grounding, but soon was lost in the task before him.

“We live together,” Shane said between paint strokes. “He cleans and I cook.”

Gaudet said the hardest thing about being a special needs parent is dealing with misconceptions about mental disabilities. The false impressions are most common among older people, she said.

“They don’t understand that these kids should be accepted as part of society,” Gaudet said.

After Gaudet gave birth to Gabby, a nurse came into her hospital room and warned her about the challenges of raising a special needs child. The woman told her that she wished her own special needs child had never been born, she said.

“That kind of thing never mattered to me,” she said. “God gave me Gabby for a reason, and I take every day with her as a blessing.”

Standing before a room full of eager painters, Gaudet looked at her smiling daughter.

“It’s good for them,” she said. “But it’s good for me too.”

For information on future workshops, contact Gaudet at (225) 202-1568.

Follow Matt McKinney on Twitter, @Mmckinne17.