Living a life of ‘ups’ with Down’s syndrome

Like many young adults, Ryan Duralia has a busy schedule and a growing list of accomplishments; what makes them remarkable is that he was born with Down’s syndrome. Duralia stays busy working for Care Rite Vocational Services, volunteering two to three days a week at Hidden Treasures Thrift Store, playing sports with Fallbrook’s Special Olympics team, practicing his role in Care Rite’s upcoming play, and maintaining a weight loss of 100 pounds.

According to Michelle Wood, Duralia’s mother, “He loves to write, mostly copy because he cannot read, and loves to draw.” He has copied the entire Bible three times, calling it his “homework” she said and, although he has no formal art training, he constantly draws abstracts with colored pencils. “I think Ryan feels free when he is creating. Sometimes I stand and watch him take a blank piece of paper, pick up a colored pencil and just start drawing,” Wood said. 

Besides drawing, Duralia likes to sew, just like his mother who has been making quilts for five years. He has a simple Bernina sewing machine (that does just straight and zigzag stitches) with which he has made his own quilt. One of Wood’s newest quilts is based on one of her son’s drawings and has drawn a lot of attention. “He makes so many really neat ones [drawings] but this one just struck me,” she said. So, she took the drawing to a workshop given by well known quilt artist Ruth McDowell for help in developing it into a quilt.

Christine Brown, editor-in-chief of American Quilter magazine, also attended the workshop and decided to write a story about Wood, Duralia and the quilt. Brown wrote in the article, published in the September 2012 issue, “Ryan, 32, has Down’s syndrome but is a productive adult, currently attending a daily program where he participates in recycling and volunteer jobs. His love of drawing has given Ryan countless hours of enjoyment and it is through his creativity that Michelle’s latest quilt came to be. When Michelle admired Ryan’s drawing of circles, he asked, ‘Can you make it into a quilt?’ She did and the result is amazing!”

Wood said that when she came home from the workshop and told her son that she was making his picture into a quilt, “Ryan just sat there, seemingly emotionless and I was wondering if he ‘got it’.  All of a sudden he threw his hands to his face and said, ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh. I’m King Quilt!’ He wanted to know if everyone in the world knew he was King Quilt.”

During the year it took to piece the quilt together, Duralia would go into his mother’s art room and pick through the fabrics she was using, taking more off the shelves, and helping her match them to his drawing, “He was excited about all of the different patterns and  colors,” Wood said. The quilt is titled Ryan’s Circles and it measures 44” x 59”.

The mother and son do a lot of other activities together, including sports in Fallbrook’s newly organized Special Olympics program. Duralia competed on the basketball team this spring before playing on the soccer team which just participated in a regional tournament for the first time, winning a silver medal.

Besides exercising at a gym three days a week and going to a Zumba class, Duralia also monitors his diet “and is very aware of healthy eating,” Wood said, adding that he lost 100 pounds over two years and has kept it off in the two years since then.

Brad Gilpin, program director at Care Rite, said his staff helps all their developmentally disabled workers make healthy choices when they stop at fast food places for lunch during their workday.

Duralia likes helping his mother fix meals and cooking “all over the place,” which his mother said means he likes chopping and stirring. Wood is putting together a cookbook for people who can’t read and plans on starting a cooking class at Care Rite using the same system next year. The class will cover basic hygiene and safety as well as healthy foods with the first group of four students being her test crew for the cookbook. Gilpin pointed out that the class will be cooking with microwave ovens rather than stoves for safety reasons.

Besides cooking and creating art, Duralia enjoys dancing, music, Wii activities, and pizza parties with his friends. Through Care Rite, Duralia also participates in the Adopt-a-Road program keeping Fallbrook Street (from Alturas to Stage Coach) clear of trash, has a job collecting and sorting recyclables, and volunteers at their Hidden Treasures Thrift Store for which he was a board member in the past.

Duralia wants everyone to know that they are going to be adding a furniture section to the store the first part of next year. Gilpin said they discovered that the disabled workers could repair and refinish second hand tables and then sell them for a lot more money. He added, “Ryan likes the fact that we are redoing items and putting out nicer items [to sell].” The training for this project is happening in a workshop in the same building as Hidden Treasures which is undergoing an expansion to accommodate the furniture. (The store is located at 925 S. Main Ave.)

Care Rite’s expressive arts program produces an annual play performed by local adults with developmental disabilities. Duralia will portray Captain Hook in Care Rite’s version of Peter Pan scheduled for Jan. 26, 2013 at Potter Junior High School. Gilpin said that Duralia “is able to learn lines and learn actions” for his part in the play.

Along with acting, Duralia is learning sign language which he sees at his church and uses to communicate with some of his Special Olympics teammates who are deaf. He is also being taught word recognition (of specific words seen around town), Gilpin said, along with some of the other disabled so they can interact with the community more.

Although he cannot read, Duralia frequently goes to the library to check out anatomy books, and also volunteers at the Fallbrook Gem & Mineral Society museum, two more of his many interests. The staff at Care Rite encourages him to learn more skills and counsels him on how to look for paid employment as well as follow his dreams.

Duralia, who quickly uses up notebook and construction paper as well as sketch pads, has not stopped giving his mother more designs to be made into quilts. Wood said, “Since I first started to make the quilt, Ryan has not stopped offering up more designs to make – one every couple of days! I’ve chosen one I’m contemplating. We shall see.”

In the meantime, Wood refers to a calendar of activities to keep up with her son’s busy schedule. With a positive outlook and lots of energy, Duralia doesn’t let Down’s syndrome keep him from enjoying the upside of life.

One Response to "Living a life of ‘ups’ with Down’s syndrome"

  1. Linda   November 16, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    Ryan, I love your story and I admire how creative you are! Your mother is wonderfully creative as well – the quilt you both worked on is absolutely beautiful. How lucky you are to have such a supportive mom, you must have had a great time picking out different colors and patterns for this project. I have made quilts in the past and they are a lot of work, the one you made looks difficult – great job! You are King Quilt!! :) I have a son with Down Syndrome and he is 8 years old. I hope that we can share an interest like this together too, thanks for inspiring me!

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