Riley Baxter might only be four years old but he’s already made an unbelievable impression on the world. Known as ‘Smiley Riley’, the youngster has melted the hearts of people who have seen his image thanks to modelling jobs for the likes of Mothercare and the Jools Oliver Little Bird range.
The four-year-old, from Rochester, Kent, has never let his Down’s Syndrome hold him back even when his parents originally worried about how his life would pan out.
Dad Stuart, 40 and mum Kirsty, 42, feared their child would be treated poorly by the world after being diagnosed, their main thought being that people would see his disabilities rather than his actual abilities.
But they have been amazed since joining different support groups-not only by the amazing progress of little Riley, but also by society. Everyone seems to love their son and it’s easy to see why. After he suggested to start modeling, he joined Zebedee Management, which showcased the poses of the little boy, with his natural charm and warm smile. Riley lived up to his nickname and perfected adorable smiles that awarded him model contracts, while classmates swarmed around him at school. Stuart, a sales manager, said: “After we were told that he had Down’s syndrome, I cried-not because I loved him less, but because I knew how cruel the world could be.
“That was the first thing that went through my mind but obviously my perceptions were wrong – and wow, how wrong I was! There was the fear of the unknown and why this had happened to us, but if I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have been upset at all.
“Riley is getting so much out of life and whenever he accomplishes something it seems that little bit extra special knowing how much harder he had to work for it.
“We have called him ‘Smiley Riley’ from a young age, because he makes people really happy, and seeing his smile gives people a pick-me-up on a bad day.
“Now he’s modelling with Zebedee, he loves the camera – you say pose and he will make this little pout followed by sticking his tongue out. In the photo-shoots they want the children to act natural and naturally he’s a very happy little boy, so it’s brilliant.
“He enjoys everything he does and does it all with a smile, whenever people see him, they don’t see his disability; just him smiling.”
After Stuart and Kirsty lost their first child, Skye, 19 weeks into the pregnancy, they spent much of their time worried for Riley.
Kirsty, who is a customer service rep, said: “For the whole of Riley’s pregnancy I was very anxious. The hospital were really good with us, we had more scans and consultation appointments.
“Every time I went for a scan, I couldn’t look at the monitor and had to wait for Stuart to tell me it was all OK.”
Kirsty cried with joy and relief after hearing her son’s first wail, knowing they had ‘got to the end’ and would finally be able to hold him.
Shortly after he was brought into the world, Riley was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, when nurses found some identifying features of the condition.
Kirsty said: “We didn’t know he had Down’s Syndrome until after Riley was born, we had the routine blood tests and scans, but they didn’t pick anything up.
“He had some of the classic tell-tale signs, like the crease in the hand, the spacing of his big toe from the others.”
After leaving the hospital they became involved in support groups and went on to learn Makaton sign language to communicate with him.
Stuart said: “We wanted to understand what he needed if he would be non-verbal for a longer time and to be able help him when he cried.
“Now he has such a repertoire of signs it’s unbelievable, to the point where other children are learning it from him.”
Riley is now able to speak two-word sentences, with a lexicon that includes ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’, he can recite the alphabet from R to Z and count from one to ten on his own.
The parents have not had to deal with any derogatory comments about their son and normally only need to explain why Riley is less verbally responsive to other children.
Aside from that, they are in awe at his progress and have found that his fellow classmates adore him.
Stuart stated: “He goes to a mainstream school, and they all love him there. Whenever he goes to parties, he is always the centre of attention.
“At one party we turned up a bit late, there were 20 children sitting around a lady dressed as a fairy. I heard them say Riley’s name and then they all came running towards him. Their love for him is amazing.”
Far from their early concerns that Riley would be treated differently because of his disabilities, the parents have been greeted with love, kindness and curiosity from the public.
Stuart said: “If I could go back to that moment and how we felt when we first found out, I would not have been upset at all. He can do everything anyone else can, it just takes him a little longer and we have enjoyed that more.
“He has needed us more, so if anything, it’s meant we could give him extra love. We were so delighted to have him, our little boy to love and bring up.”
What an incredibly perfect story.