A group which was set up for babies and toddlers with Downs Syndrome is marking its first anniversary. GAIL ANDERSON has been finding out how Small Steps has been helping - and continuing to help - families and youngsters find support and celebrate the small things in life.

WHEN Alison Watson found out her fourth child was at a high risk of having Down's Syndrome, she spent two days in a daze.

While it had been a shock, when Alison was offered a diagnostic test to find out definitively if her baby had the condition, she refused, knowing the procedure was risky to her unborn child.

Three years on, Freya is a much-loved member of the family, though for one so young she has had a lot to deal with.

At 13 weeks Freya had to undergo treatment at Great Ormond Street Hospital after doctors discovered a series of holes in her heart. She continues to suffer coughs and colds, and her speech is limited to seven or eight words.

Alison, who set up the Small Steps group for other children with Down's Syndrome and their families a year ago, is keen to celebrate all Freya's achievements.

"Our children will and do 'get there' - it just takes smaller steps - and in doing that you appreciate and celebrate every tiny achievement and find you don't take it all for granted," she said.

"You find you are looking at the world through their eyes and studying everyday things all over again but at a slower pace and in more detail, which is in itself a gift."

The group for under-fives with Down's Syndrome, meets every Friday at the Sure Start centre in Ambury Road, Huntingdon. Currently it helps seven families from across Huntingdonshire.

Alison, 39, of Claytons Way, Huntingdon, started the group after realising she felt isolated from other mums and dads with children with special needs. With support from the paediatrics team at Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon, she started the group with two other mums.

Evenutally, other families joined them after hearing about the group by word of mouth.

"When Freya was born, I would have loved to have been in touch with other local families with a little one with DS. There are so many questions and worries only parents can answer, and the need to share experiences and gather advice is crucial, but I knew no one.

"There are little habits they can get, if they are doing it over and over, it can worry you. Freya is older than the other children. She has tried everything and done everything, and I know it will get better.

"That is another nice thing about the group - you can share all their achievements. The things you take for granted that other babies do, with our children it takes so much more effort."

Funding from MENCAP has been used to help buy the group more sensory equipment and there are plans to add more fun mirrors and play wall tiles.

An It's a Knockout charity event in Warboys recently raised £1,200 for the group and the group hopes to put on more fundraising events.

INFORMATION: Small Steps runs from 12.30pm to 2.30pm every Friday. To join or for more information e-mail Alison on watsonalison@hotmail.co.uk