By Josh Saunders
A rainbow baby born with Down Syndrome been dubbed ‘Smiley Riley’ has been melting hearts as a model.
Riley Baxter, four, from Rochester, Kent, has already been the face of a Mothercare advert, the Jools Oliver Little Bird range and more.
His parents Stuart and Kirsty, 40 and 42, initially feared how their son would be treated by the world after being diagnosed, worrying that people would see his disabilities rather than his abilities.
But since joining support groups, they have been amazed by not only little Riley’s progress, but society’s too with everyone adoring their son.
After being suggested that he should start modelling, he joined Zebedee Management who showcase the little boy’s poses, naturally charm and heart-warming smile.
Living up to his nickname, Riley has perfected adorable pouts that have gotten him modelling contracts and at school fellow classmates swarm around him.
Stuart, a sales manager, said: “After we were told he had Down Syndrome I cried, not for the case that I would love him any less but just knowing how cruel the world can 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 photoshoots 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 losing their first daughter, Skye, 19 weeks into the pregnancy in 2013, parents Stuart and Kirsty spent much of their time concerned for Riley.
Kirsty, who works in customer services, said: “So 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 sobbed with joy and relief after hearing her son’s first cry, knowing they ‘got to the end’ and finally could hold him.
Shortly after, Riley was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, when nurses noticed he was floppier than other babies and showed 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.”
Riley initially struggled to feed, needing an NG-Tube through his nose to give him the nutrients he needed every four hours.
After leaving hospital, they joined support groups and would go onto learn Makaton sign language to communicate with him, who is predominantly non-verbal.
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, it’s to the point where other children are learning it from him.”
Riley is now able to speak two-word sentences, including ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’, being able to recite the alphabet from R to Z and count from one to ten on his own.
In addition, due to muscle weakness he contended with learning how to walk and needed a Kaye Walker until aged three.
Stuart said: “With his walking he has to work twice as hard as anyone else to do what they are doing.
“When he walks a mile it’s like walking two for anyone else, but his determination to keep going is the one thing we constantly see.”
The parents have not contended with any derogatory comments about their son and normally only need to explain why Riley is less verbally communicative to other children.
Aside from that, they are amazed by his progress and have found his fellow classmates adore him.
Stuart said: “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.”