By Dustin Turner

Brandon and Maura Dial didn’t know their son Ryan would have Down syndrome until he was born.

“They held him up and I knew right away he had Down syndrome,” Maura said. “Everybody in [the] room looked a little nervous, but we were both fine. We were just surprised. He has been a gift since that moment.”

Now 2 years old, Ryan is the energetic youngest of five children. He has a brother, John, 6, and sisters Margaret, 5, Caroline, 7, and Kate, 17.

“The older kids knew as soon as they saw him that he has Down syndrome. But they never stopped and thought about it for another minute,” Maura recalls. “They are so proud of him. They wear Down syndrome awareness bracelets and have crazy sock day at school for World Down Syndrome Awareness Day. They love every opportunity to celebrate their brother.”

Children with Down syndrome face learning and mental developmental challenges, which means Ryan won’t learn at the same speed as his peers. That was one of the first challenges his siblings faced. “They’ve all said they can’t wait for Ryan to get to school with them,” Maura said. “I’ve explained that he might not go to the same school, at least not at the same time. That’s been a little hard for them to understand because they just don’t see him as any different.”

According to the National Down Syndrome Society, children with Down syndrome often exhibit stubborn, oppositional behavior and attention problems. They also can wander off without fear. In other words, parents Brandon and Maura right now face many of the challenges of raising any energetic 2-year-old. “Most 2-year-olds don’t know fear anyway,” Brandon explains. “But he has fewer inhibitions and really just does not have any fear. That also means he doesn’t know strangers at all. His default emotion is simply love. Someone once told us that children with Down syndrome are closest to God because their default emotion at all times is love.”

On a recent warm afternoon, the children gathered for a photoshoot in Boeckh Park in North Augusta. Between photos, the siblings ran around with Ryan to help burn off some of his energy.

“He is such a joy. He just makes us laugh no matter what mood we’re in,” says Kate, 17, laughing as her brother stops mid-run to dance. “I’ll turn on music, and he just dances all by himself. He loves to dance. Sometimes I’ll play the guitar for him, and he’ll dance the whole time.”

Because Ryan isn’t on the same developmental timeline as other children, his siblings have had to adjust and show some patience.  “They are all so patient with Ryan,” Maura said. “In a way, it has been good for them to see that not everybody is the same. They see that we are all deserving of love.”

Oldest sister Kate, a graduate of the class of 2021 at Aquinas High School, agrees that her immediate concern was that Ryan wouldn’t be able to do the same thing the other kids do. But Ryan’s joy and eagerness to keep up with his siblings has helped quell that. Her biggest challenge right now is education–for herself and others. “When he was born, none of us knew anything about Down syndrome,” she said. “And two years later, we’re still learning. And other people are learning with us, even if I have to teach them.” As an example, Kate uses the words people choose, often because they don’t know how to handle the situation or what is appropriate. Someone might say “Ryan is Down,” a common phrase she is quick to correct. “He is not Down. He is Ryan. He just happens to have Down syndrome. It doesn’t define who he is,” she said. 

As a father who wants what’s best for his children, Brandon understands all too well the value of educating his family. He wants to know the best ways to meet the special needs of his son, but he also wants to help other families who have children with Down syndrome. That all began with a chance meeting with PGA caddy Paul Tesori, who has caddied for Vijay Singh, Sean O’Hair and Webb Simpson. “We just happened to meet the Tesori family while at Tybee beach, and he has a son who was diagnosed at birth with Down syndrome,” Brandon recalls. Tesori and his wife, Michelle, started the Tesori Foundation in 2010 to help homeless shelters and food banks. When his son, Isaiah, was born with Down syndrome, the focus changed to providing golf clinics for children with special needs. The Dial family was at the Augusta clinic in 2019 and is looking forward to the next one in Augusta this year. “Paul has opened our eyes to the importance of giving back and to the importance of community,” Brandon said.

The Dial family knows what it’s like to face the unknown, so they want to help other families do the same. As an attorney, Brandon encounters many people daily. He recently had a client with a friend who had a birth diagnosis. Brandon got in touch and was able to provide support and lead that family to resources.

“We are open to any challenge God gives us but at the same time, we’re like, ‘All right, what do we do? What’s the next step? What are the resources?’” Brandon said. “We have to educate ourselves to help other families.” To help others, Ryan’s parents formed the Brandon and Maura Dial Family Foundation to “bring information, resources, events and love to those in the Augusta area that have Down syndrome and their families. Our mission is to encourage hope and inclusion through love and joy,” they explain on the Foundation’s Facebook page. “We’ve been blessed,” Brandon says, “so it may be easier for us than a lot of other people. We just want to help others.”

Maura agrees that Ryan’s condition has turned out to be a blessing. Through him, she explains, her children have learned patience and acceptance. They have learned to love everyone and to advocate for people with special needs. Another blessing is Ryan’s physical condition.

“A lot of children with Down syndrome have heart defects, vision issues and even leukemia. Thankfully, he doesn’t have any of that,” she said.  She knew from Day One that Ryan would have a bright future. “We talked about in the hospital when he was born that he is never going to know any limitations,” she said. “He will be able to do most things his siblings can. It will just take a little longer.”

Kate is happy to be a little more patient and do whatever she can to ensure Ryan is happy, safe and loved. “He really is a joy. Some people might see him as a kid with Down syndrome, but I see him as my peer,” she says. “He’s so full of energy. He’s always running around and wrestling with John. Ryan is full of love, and I see God’s love through him.”

Dustin Turner is the Communications and Content Manager for Alison South Marketing Group. He lives in Aiken with his amazing, beautiful and very patient wife of 22 years, Jamie, and their artistic, sassy and fierce daughter, Abigail, 12. Dustin enjoys writing, shooting and editing video and acting and directing in community theatre.

photos by Randy Pace