Most of us feel a twinge of anxiety when we have to make a presentation to strangers, but David Clarke (34) says he's never nervous when he stands up to speak in front of a crowd. David and his dad Pat have travelled the world together giving presentations in Singapore, Cape Town and Vancouver. While in Bali, they gave a joint presentation on participating in elections and the right to vote. "I always vote," says David, who can't wait to visit India in August for the World Down Syndrome Congress. "I voted on the same-sex marriage referendum and was very pleased with the result."
"David has voted in every election since he turned 18, so he told them about his experience," adds Pat, who is CEO of Down Syndrome Ireland. "They wouldn't have reckoned on this in their culture, or expected that a person with Down syndrome could stand up and give a presentation like that." In addition, the charming duo have made presentations at the UN and Council of Europe, and also visited the White House, where they spotted Barack Obama getting into his helicopter.
Pat first met his wife Madeline going to confession, and they were married in 1977 and have four children, Susan, David, Caroline and Emer. They got a shock when David was born with DS, as they didn't know in advance, but were thankful that he didn't have any of the congenital heart problems that affect almost half of babies born with the condition. "We entered into 'coping mode,'" says Pat. "David was great as a baby, and when any difficulties arose, we knew we would all learn to grow into them. David was always independent. We got him into a mainstream creche, and he never wanted us to bring him in as he wanted to walk in on his own. When it was time to go to school, unfortunately the only place that was available back then was a segregated special school, which meant that David had to travel daily from Trim, where we lived then, to Navan. My work with DSI was only voluntary at that point, but I got involved with setting up the first mainstream education programme for children with DS."
Now living in Drogheda, Pat grew up on a farm in Louth and is the eldest of the late Tom and Tina's eight children. He went to school at St Patrick's in Armagh because he thought he might join the priesthood, but that didn't work out and he trained as an accountant. He was working as a self-employed business consultant prior to becoming CEO of DSI five years ago. He is very excited about the HB Hazelbrook Farm Ice Cream Fundays campaign they're currently running, where people all around the country are hosting fun ice cream parties and receiving vouchers for free HB Hazelbrook Farm ice cream. The parties provide a vital source of funding for DSI's essential work, which includes fighting for the implementation of the 'legal capacity' legislation, and funding core services in the areas of early development, education, health and independence.
"Dad is good at being the head of DSI and I'm very proud of him," says David. "He is good to talk to, and I like going out for meals or to the pub for a pint with him - I like a good pint. What drives me mad is that he's always on the phone."
David loves soccer and swimming, and represented Ireland at the World Down Syndrome swimming championships, winning a gold medal in Limerick and a silver in Portugal. He also got a red belt in taekwondo, and currently plays tag rugby with a local group. What was he like as a teenager? Did father and son clash when the hormones kicked in? "David was very good and didn't give us any trouble," says Pat. "The girls were worse! David was always independent and fairly focused, and he went on to attend Drumcar Park Enterprises, which is a training centre workshop environment."
David now has two part-time jobs - packing hampers for Gifts.ie, and working with Tesco, Drogheda, where he looks after recycling. He also completed the Latch-On programme, a two-year literacy and technology programme for adults with an intellectual disability. "We noticed the participants' language skills really improved and David can now do very difficult word searches that he never did before," says Pat, adding that they are speaking to Trinity College about brain training for people with DS, because they can begin to show signs of dementia and Alzheimer's from the age of 40, and 60pc will show signs of those diseases by 60.
While he is still living at home, the family is looking to set up support so that David can be in a position to live semi-independently. He wants to learn to cook, and enjoys trying out local dishes while travelling, and even the very spicy foods he encountered in Bali went down well. "My dad is a good cook, and he can make lasagne," he says. "Mum isn't bad either and she makes spaghetti bolognaise. I make salads as they are a healthy option. I like a fresh fruit salad for dessert and I love cheesecake."
The Clarke men love watching football together, although it can get a bit contentious as David supports Manchester United while Pat's team is Chelsea. We shall say no more about that...
"David is a really fun guy and we have a great time together," says Pat. "I am very proud of his achievements, but a lot of credit has to go to Madeline. While I was out working, she worked extremely hard with David. She made a big effort to get him to socialise, and now we can bring him anywhere and he mixes with everyone. I came in at the nicer parts of it, like getting him to work with me and do presentations, but Madeline has made him into the fantastic man he is today."
To host a HB Ice Cream Funday, call freephone 1890 37 37 37 or register online at www.downsyndrome.ie to receive your party pack, which includes vouchers for free HB Farm ice cream
Sunday Indo Living