Gigi's Playhouse Detroit opens for people with Down syndrome

For the first time ever in Metro Detroit, an achievement center designed specifically for children and adults with Down syndrome has opened in Southfield.

Gigi's Playhouse at the corner of 12 Mile and Evergreen is open to both children and adults. When FOX 2's Amy Lange visited Gigi's, Luke and Chris were getting a game of air hockey in: just a couple of teenagers - who just happen to have Down syndrome - having fun.

"I feel lucky because I was born like this," said Luke Tyrell. 

The 19-year-old isn't just playing, he's also a board member at Gigi's Playhouse, the new Down syndrome achievement center. The community and learning center is completely free and open for all ages.

"We have four learning labs here and they are going to help us with one-on-one tutoring with younger kids and adults like me," said Luke.

Lisa Kocab is the president of Gigi's Playhouse Detroit and says everything is free so cost isn't a barrier for families to get extra help. There are more than 40 Gigi's Playhouses across the country with a unique focus on people with Down syndrome. 

Site coordinator Beth Swanson said the center is focused on these children and adults so they can have a place for themselves.

"It's all based around how our children learn - and how they think and how they process things. So it's really important for our kids to have a place to call their own," Swanson said.

Beth and Lisa each know firsthand how important this learning center is: Beth's 3-year-old daughter, Delphine, and Lisa's 7-year-old son, PJ, both have Down syndrome. 

Lisa says it can be a difficult diagnosis for many families to share - but not here.

"A lot of times we're the first congratulations families get when they walk through the door after hearing so many i'm sorries - they can come here and hear congratulations," Lisa said.

"There's over 5,000 families with loved ones with down syndrome in the metro area so it's nice that they all now have a place to come," Beth said.

But it's not just for children. The Down syndrome achievement center serves all ages and multiple levels of needs.

"It is a Down syndrome achievement center but it's for adults and children - and it's designed for the unique needs of Down syndrome, but available for everybody," Lisa said.

That includes people with cerebral palsy, people on the autism spectrum - all are welcome. There are just a few simple rules, according to Luke.

"My message to everyone is to be positive and be kind to everyone who is around you guys and come on our to Gigi's and support our playhouse," he said.

The playhouse is open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. but many programs are during the evening or weekends. 

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