National / Social Issues

TV announcer Ryuen lobbying for Down syndrome children

by Yasushi Kakizaki

Kyodo

A former TV Asahi Corp. announcer is working to raise awareness of Down syndrome in children. She has a 2-year-old boy with the condition.

Freelance TV professional Airi Ryuen believes parents in Japan find it hard to obtain support.

On March 21, she served as the moderator at several events focused on people who have the genetic condition. The United Nations has designated March 21 as “World Down Syndrome Day” because people with the syndrome have three copies of the 21st chromosome instead of the usual two.

Ryuen, 39, who was born in Sweden, joined TV Asahi Corp. in 1999 as an announcer and from 2006 also worked as a reporter. Her partner works in a trading business.

She left the broadcaster in December 2011 and moved to California the following month, giving birth to a son in May 2013.

Ryuen said she could not stop crying when she first found out that the boy had Down syndrome. But based on her experience of interviewing people, she said, she knew that whether one is happy or not cannot be decided by other people.

“I decided to raise him in a way that he would think of himself as happy,” she said.

Compared with the United States, where comprehensive services are available for children with special needs and their parents, Ryuen said parents with children with Down syndrome in Japan often struggle to find such support.

She launched a Japanese-language blog on March 21, 2014, when her son was 10 months old, to describe the U.S. welfare system and help to raise awareness about the condition.

She returned to Japan last year. Since November, she and has organized weekly gatherings for children with Down syndrome and their parents in Tokyo. In all, 100 families have taken part.

Ryuen always tries to listen to mothers’ stories and give them advice rather than pushing them to do something. She said the gatherings are aimed at sharing experiences and information.

At one such meeting, one mother wept, saying “I had no one who I could talk to.”

Ryuen said what she wants to tell mothers of children with Down syndrome is that they are not alone and that such children should be raised together. She said she will continue her activities in the hope of conveying it to society as a whole.