Annie Yorty said she experienced a “ wild turn in the track of life” she did not expect after the birth of daughter, Alyssa, who has Down Syndrome.
Their story, including a chapter by Alyssa, chronicles the family’s life since Annie and her husband, Jeff, of Waynesboro, were told of the diagnosis after her birth 33 years ago. “As a Christian, I learned a lot about God through raising Alyssa, showing me the truth about life, myself and him,” Annie said.
In her new book, “From Ignorance to Bliss: God’s Heart Revealed Through Down Syndrome,” she tells the story of Alyssa, and “how God revealed himself to me and to us through her. Each chapter tells a story from her life and shows what God taught me through that as her Mom.”
Annie said she was inspired to write the book 25 or 30 years ago. “The idea came to me – maybe I wasn’t ready to write it. I was thinking one day, ‘maybe it was good we didn’ know what was ahead when she was born,’” she explained.
The Yortys opted not to do prenatal testing and didn’t know of Alyssa’s condition until after she was born during a very difficult emergency C-section. “I was still in shock from that when I was told and then we were more focused on ‘We have a child who is alive more than she has Down Syndrome.’ That wasn’t at the top of our list,” Annie recalled. “We were just really thankful that we had her.”
You often hear about a period of grieving parents go through when they receive this type of diagnosis, according to Annie. “And there’s nothing wrong with that. This changed our expectations and frankly, still does. Every new stage of her life and my own, I realize something new.
“People my age, their children have moved out and they’re starting their own lives, having grandkids. They have an empty nest. My nest isn’t going to empty,” added Annie.
Alyssa has been blessed with fairly good health.
“Sometimes there are heart issues (at birth), but she didn’t have that. Even without major things, within a week of her birth (in New Hampshire), she was seeing specialists to check for different things and for genetic testing,” the mother recalled.
Alyssa was immediately immersed in early intervention therapies. “We dove right into that. Life was very busy and stressful,” Annie admitted. “When she was 1 and 2, she had surgery on her eyes, but it wasn’t serious.”
The book explores many of those challenges, according to Annie, including education, which is a huge one – finding the right specialists and therapists to meet her needs – and getting schools to work with you to achieve goals you want. Not an easy task.
The Yortys were focused on meeting Alyssa’s needs, and when she was just 2 years old, visited the principal of the school in Hershey where she would start kindergarten to prepare the way.
“We had an inclusive educational setting in mind for her. It hadn’t been done, but it was excellent there,” Annie said.
When the family moved to North Carolina, however, they saw the other side of the coin.
“They were not willing to work with us. We proceeded with due process. It was a long and difficult couple of years. We did win our case, but at the end, we just didn’t have any money to pay for it. We finished out the year when Alyssa was 8 years old, and then I began to homeschool. Once I did it, it was great. You can homeschool pretty easily. There are so many resources,” according to Annie, who has bachelor’s degrees in business and accounting, and also homeschooled son Stuart, 26.
“Even though we won the case, they would not have accommodated her. They would have found a reason to revisit the inclusion,” Annie believes.
Life for Alyssa today includes working three days a week.
“She really likes that, especially the paycheck.” Alyssa uses her earnings to go out to eat and buy supplies like markers and coloring books.
She has maybe more appointments with doctors than other people her age, Annie said, but that doesn’t stop her from running errands with her mother, visiting with friends, reading, writing and watching movies. She also does chores around the house.
“Alyssa has her own mind. Most people are surprised at her ability to verbally communicate,” Annie said. “She thinks and talks fast and has her own opinion.”
Annie also hosts a podcast specifically directed to moms of kids with special needs. Every Monday she posts a Bible passage and talks about what’s going on with that verse and draws some applications to their lives.
Once a month, Annie writes an article for crosswalk.com, an online clearinghouse for Christian articles and newscasts. “I’m also available to speak on disability topics or homeschooling,” she said.
For more information contact Annie at [email protected]
Annie said the goal of the book, available in March on Amazon, is to inspire and encourage readers to see how God is with them through whatever twists and turns (they have) in their lives and additionally, to help others understand people with Down Syndrome.
“They’ll see dimensions that they have never thought of, including extremes,” Annie said. “Alyssa has been to Siberia for a two-week mission trip and she did excellent.”