SHERIDAN — Kasen Kaeding is a typical 7-year-old boy with an abiding love of golf, football, hibachi steakhouses and “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
But for one brief moment on Sept. 18, Kasen was also hundreds of feet tall. His photograph was displayed on two Times Square jumbotrons in an hour-long video during the New York City Buddy Walk.
The video, from the National Down Syndrome Society, showcased 500 kids, teenagers and adults from all 50 states who have been diagnosed with Down syndrome. The pictures showed these individuals going to prom, playing sports and working hard at their jobs. Others, like Kasen, simply shared their infectious smiles.
Each photo served as a reminder of the humanity and personality of those impacted by the world’s most common chromosomal condition, according to Kasen’s mom Alicia Kaeding.
“It felt great to see those photos,” Alicia said. “Everybody has potential and seeing these kids go on to do great things shows they’re just as capable as anybody else.”
Typically, the nucleus of each cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, half of which are inherited from each parent. Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21. This additional genetic material alters the course of development and causes the characteristics associated with Down syndrome.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in every 700 babies in the United States is born with Down syndrome. About 6,000 babies with Down syndrome are born in the United States each year.
The Times Square video presentation kicked off the Buddy Walk, which has taken place in New York City since 1995 to raise Down syndrome awareness. This year’s walk, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was held two weeks before the start of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, which will be observed throughout October.
While the Kaeding family had hoped to attend the Buddy Walk in person, Alicia said it was still special to watch the National Down Syndrome Society’s live feed of the Times Square video, which featured not only Kasen, but the children of Kaeding family friends from around the nation, who had found ways to thrive despite their challenges.
Kasen’s photo was one of more than 2,100 from across the nation submitted for the Times Square video, according to the National Down Syndrome Society. While Kasen was front and center in the photo, it also spotlighted the photographic talents of his 18-year-old sister Kaylee, who took the photo as part of her photography class at Sheridan High School.
“We got to choose our own project we wanted to do, and I decided on Kasen, because he’s really photogenic,” Kaylee said. “I like the photo (in Times Square) because he looks cute in it, and he’s smiling. It was great to share that with people.”
Alicia said she hoped Kasen’s turn in the spotlight brought awareness to Down syndrome and how people like Kasen have so much to offer despite their challenges.
“Inclusion is huge, and we push for that in his school too,” Alicia said. “We believe he has so much to offer, and we want to share that with others as much as we can.”
The entirety of the Times Square video can be watched online, via the National Down Syndrome Society Facebook page, at fb.watch/8lECwC_Ynl.