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Teen with Down syndrome takes modeling world by storm
01:31 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Rosanne Stuart is not only Madeline’s “mum,” but her manager as well, as the teen begins her modeling career. The mother-daughter team is based in Brisbane, Australia. The opinions in this article are solely those of the author.

Story highlights

Rosanne Stuart had never heard of Down syndrome before her daughter Madeline was born

Today, the 18 year-old is extremely active, playing sports seven days a week

Last month, Maddy became just the second woman with Down syndrome to walk the runway at New York Fashion Week

CNN  — 

When Madeline was born November 13, 1996, it came as quite a shock to be told my tiny baby had Down syndrome. I was completely unaware of what the genetic disorder was. I had never known anyone with a disability, so I was oblivious to what it meant.

The doctors told me Maddy would never amount to much and would only mature intellectually to a 9- or 10-year-old child. This, along with the stress of just giving birth, made me very emotional and quite scared.

I took a day to comprehend what this all meant and then moved forward. I have never been one to think the worst. For some reason, I just always believe everything will work out in the end if you have faith in yourself and the people you love.

Rosanne Stuart's daughter, Madeline, was born with Down syndrome and needed heart surgery at two months old.

So I would make sure Maddy had a wonderful life and that she always felt loved and protected. Our journey, of course, was full of ups and downs.

The first hurdle was open-heart surgery at eight weeks. The doctors did not hold out much hope, giving her only a 13% chance of survival, but that didn’t deter me. Maddy was a fighter and, in the end, didn’t let the odds win.

When Maddy was growing up, we faced discrimination. A lot of times, we would go to the park and parents would take their kids away from my daughter or children would walk away from her. Maddy would ask me where they were going, and I would just tell her they had gone to get lunch or gone home for dinner. I didn’t believe my daughter should ever have to see that sad, naive side of humanity.

I wanted the world to change, and I wanted people to start seeing disabilities in a different light. Just because Maddy won’t end up being a scholar doesn’t mean she can’t offer amazing attributes to our society such as showing people love, accepting people for who they are and being kind. These are just as important as that “A” on a report card, if not more important.

Over the years, I had to find specialists that shared my optimistic attitude, so I changed pediatricians and therapists a few times.

I wanted Maddy to have only positive influences in her life; that way, she would always see the positive. Thankfully, I find most doctors today have a more hopeful view. The philosophy that people with disabilities will only learn to a certain age is fading.

We all continue learning throughout our lives. We just need the opportunities to help us grow. And I have been diligent in giving my daughter ample opportunities throughout her 18 years of life!

Last year, we were at a fashion parade, and Maddy said, “Mum. Me. Model.”

My little girl always loved being in the spotlight, and I knew at that moment she wanted to get up on the catwalk. I had to explain that she couldn’t just climb up on the stage, which didn’t go down well as you can well imagine. I told her if she wanted to be a model, she would have to continue eating healthy, which she had started earlier that year to keep up with her dance troupe.

Maddy's first professional photo shoot.

Nine months later, we were off to see a professional photographer. Maddy was superexcited to do her first photo shoot. As for me, I was doing it to see if she would actually like the whole process. Well, she loved it!

Rosanne: "I created a Madeline Stuart Facebook page and within a week her photos were viral."

When I previewed the photos the following week, I nearly fell out of my chair. I had always known my baby girl was cute, but in these photos she was stunning. Before doing anything, I consulted parents with Down syndrome children. I wanted to know if the photos were too controversial; however, the feedback was phenomenal.

People said the photos were in great taste and that I should post them all over the world. So I did. I created a Madeline Stuart Facebook page and within a week her photos were viral.

So many people said she was an inspiration. Maddy gave people hope that their children living with Down syndrome could achieve anything they set their mind to.

Since then, Maddy modeled for the Hendrik Vermeulen label during the FTL Moda presentation at New York Fashion Week last month. She is the face of lipstick company GlossiGirl and EverMaya created a handbag named after her called “The Madeline.” The company even donates 5% of the sales from those bags to the National Down Syndrome Society. A few weeks ago, Maddy also received the Model of the Year Award at Melange 2015 in San Francisco.

Of course, I believe this is just the beginning and to anyone that knows us, they know that this is not just about modeling. This is about changing the world, creating inclusion, stopping discrimination and breaking down the walls of confinement. Modeling is just the vehicle that is letting us do it.

We want everyone to love and be loved. After all, that is what truly matters.