Down syndrome model aims to breaks down stereotypes

22-year-old with Down syndrome whose parents were told she would NEVER read, write, or lead a normal life ‘proves them wrong’ as she pursues her dream of becoming a model

  • Grace Strobel, from Wildwood, Missouri, was born with Down syndrome  
  • A counselor told her parents when she was born that they should consider putting her in a professionally-run ‘institution’  
  • The now 22-year-old was home schooled by her mother, Linda Strobel, before attending elementary school when she turned eight 
  • In 2017, when Grace was 20-years-old, she was volunteering in a local kindergarten’s canteen when she was made fun of by young students
  • In order to spread awareness and educate younger children about the disorder, Grace began giving motivational speeches at local schools 
  • While researching for a speech one day, she read a story about a Down syndrome model, and wondered if she could do the same 
  • She walked in her first ever show for St. Louis designer Ola Hawatmeh in February, and will walk in her New York City Fashion Week show this fall 
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A young woman who was born with Down syndrome is determined to transform public perceptions about the genetic disorder by pursuing her dream of becoming a model.

Grace Strobel, 22, from Wildwood, Missouri, gives regular public speeches about the condition in the hopes of spread awareness and overcoming societal stereotypes about Down syndrome – which causes developmental and intellectual delays.

The model hopes to change society’s view of people with disabilities, and create a change that will result in more opportunities for those with impairments. 

Inspiration: Grace Strobel, 22, is breaking down the stereotypes surrounding Down syndrome through modelling and motivational speaking  

Beautiful! The budding model, from Wildwood, Missouri, was born with Down syndrome – a genetic disorder in which a person is born with an extra chromosome

Effortless: The disorder meant that Grace experienced both developmental and intellectual delays from the time she was born

Stunning: Her parents, Linda and Jeff Strobel, were told by a counselor when Grace was born that their daughter would face a lifetime of challenges as a result 

Supportive: Linda (right) and Jeff (top left) were also told that their daughter Grace, pictured with younger sister Laine (center), would never learn to read or write

When Grace was born, she was diagnosed with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder in which a person has an extra chromosome.

The disorder results in both developmental and intellectual delays.

A counselor told Grace’s mother and father, Linda and Jeff Strobel, that her daughter would face a lifetime of challenges as a result, according to STL Today. 

‘There is no shame in this at all, there are still institutions that will take her,’ Jeff says the counselor told them. ‘Just take your time to think about it.’

Strike a pose! However, Linda and Jeff weren’t going to let the counselor’s words stop Grace from achieving everything she wanted in life 

Similarly, the couple were told that their daughter would never read or write.

However, Linda and Jeff were determined for their daughter to succeed in life and prove the counselor wrong.

As soon as they brought Grace home from the hospital for the first time, Linda began working with the newborn to help build muscle and tone in her neck, as well as reading everything she could about the disability.

Linda became invested in focusing her time on Grace, and began homeschooling her.  

Jeff, a Navy veteran, and Linda moved to Wildwood when they had their second child, Laine.

By the time Grace was three-years-old, Linda would spend four to five hours every day working on school work. By age five, Grace had started reading and had memorized different words.

When she was eight-years-old Linda decided to send Grace to elementary school, in order for her to improve her social skills by spending time with other students. 

Linda said: ‘I was on a mission. I didn’t care what other people said or did. I surrounded myself with like-minded people.’

However, Grace often had to be moved to different schools because Linda felt the level of education she was receiving wasn’t substantial. 

She recalls a particular school in which a teacher had the child coloring worksheets all day long, and Linda decided to move Grace to a different school as a result. 

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Gorgeous: Determined to prove the counselor wrong, Linda began working with Grace to help build and improve the muscle and tone in her neck

Natural: Linda also began homeschooling Grace. The pair would spend hours every day working with each other 

Amazing! When Grace was five, she was reading and memorizing words, so by the time she was eight-years-old, Linda sent her to elementary school to improve her social skills

Sisterly love: Pictured with her younger sister Laine, Grace attended a number of schools, being moved by her mother when she thought Grace wasn’t being taught a substantial amount

Supportive: Pictured with her father Jeff, sister Laine (center) and mother Linda (right), Grace receives tremendous love and support from her family

The mother-of-two explained: ‘You’re going to end up getting a Ph.D. in coloring by the end of this.’

She moved Grace to a new school, and also continued to home school her from the comfort of their family house.

Despite Linda’s kind, patient attitude toward Grace’s disability, not everyone treated Grace with the kind of love she received from her mother, father and younger sister.   

Sad: Despite receiving love and support from her family, everyone didn’t treat Grace with such respect 

Linda recalls a time during which Grace, who was 20-years-old at the time, was volunteering in a local kindergarten’s canteen in 2017.

One day a group of young students made fun of her for being unable to open their juice boxes and packets of food.

The mother-of-two said Grace got so upset that she cried for four days in a row after the incident. 

However, despite the devastating incident, Linda was convinced that they could turn the negative into a positive, and teach younger students about Down syndrome so they would be more knowledgeable.  

She hired a speech coach and arranged for Grace to give a presentation at Rockwood Valley Middle School, which she had attended, to young sixth-grade students. 

During the speech, over 100 students watched and listened to Grace as she explained the cause of the disability, the results, and how she lives her life. 

She explained to the students that when she was born she was told that she would never be able to tie her shoes, as well as a number of different ways the disorder has impacted her life.

Upset: While volunteering at a local school kitchen, Grace was made fun of for her disability by a group of young children, and was left upset for days after the incident 

Positive message: Linda then arranged for Grace to give a speech at a local school in order for her to teach the children more about Down syndrome, so they would better understand

Popular: Grace’s speech, which she rehearsed for hours, went so well that she was booked to give talks in a number of other local schools 

After giving the speech, Grace booked several other talks at local schools. 

The now 22-year-old was asked to be the keynote speaker at a Funding Futures event in Chicago, which raises money for cognition research for people with the disability. 

Jeff said when Grace was coming on stage to give her powerful five-minute speech, he was ‘saying prayers’ that it would all go to plan.

During the speech, she told the story of how her parents were told she would never achieve much.

‘I’m here to tell you they were wrong,’ she said. 

One day, while she was doing her research for an upcoming speech, she found a story about a girl with Down syndrome who worked as a model.

‘Anything is possible,’ her mother said when Grace asked if she might be able to become a model as well. 

In the summer of 2018 Linda hired a photographer to take some shots of Grace, and later uploaded them online.  

Inspirational: While researching for a speech one day, Grace came across a story about a model with Down syndrome, and wondered if she could become a model as well 

Encouragement: Linda told her daughter that ‘anything is possible’ and hired a photographer to take photos of Grace, which went viral when she uploaded them online 

Success: Grace was picked by St. Louis fashion designer Ola Hawatmeh to walk in a show in Atlantic City in February, where she is pictured 

When they were uploaded to Facebook, the series of photographs went viral. 

Linda was given the contact number for St. Louis fashion designer Ola Hawatmeh by a friend, who told her to give them a call to see if there were any opportunities for Grace. 

Pro! The 22-year-old has been invited by the designer to walk in a show this fall during New York City Fashion Week 

She told the designer: ‘My daughter has a dream to become a model.’

The designer told Linda that she would help to make Grace’s dream come true. 

Ola gave Grace some catwalk lessons and designed a dress specifically for Grace, before bringing her to walk in one of her show’s at Fashion Week in Atlantic City in February. 

The audience gave Grace, who still volunteers in schools when she’s not modeling, a round of applause as she walked in the finale of a show wearing a long white gown. 

After doing so well in previous shows, the designer, who says she sees ‘courage and beauty’, invited the 22-year-old to walk in one of her shows in the fall during New York City Fashion Week.

Grace’s father Jeff said he wishes he could buy the counselor, who told he and his wife that their daughter wouldn’t achieve much, a plane ticket to come and see her walking in New York City.  

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