Down Syndrome (DS) is the most common chromosomal abnormality. Every year, about 6,000 babies in the United States are born with DS—about 1 in every 691 babies. Typically, the nucleus of each cell has 46 chromosomes, but those with DS, for some unknown reason, have a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21. The extra genetic material changes the course of development. This is cause for the physical characteristics that are commonly associated with DS, like low muscle tone, small stature, an upward eye slant, and a single deep crease across the center of the palm. Those with DS also have a higher rate of certain health issues and some amount of cognitive delay. Although these characteristics are common in those with DS, each person is a unique individual and may have these characteristics to different degrees, or not at all.
When educating children with DS, the overall priority should be no different than that given to teaching any child. They should be developing new skills, learning appropriate behavior, and try to achieve the highest level of independence. Listed below are some helpful tips for those who have children with DS:
- Learn about DS. The more you know, the more you can help both you and your child.
- Love and play with your child. Treat him or her as you would treat a child without disabilities. Take your child places, read together, have fun together. Provide your child with as many opportunities for him or her to do these things.
- Have high expectations for your child. Be enthusiastic and encouraging.
- Encourage your child to be independent (i.e. getting dressed, grooming, etc.)
- Give your child chores, but make sure to consider his or her mental capacity, attention span, and abilities. Divide tasks into small steps. Explain each step to your child until the chore is completed. Children with DS are visual learners, so demonstrating an action for them can really help them connect what they are learning.
- Offer your help when needed and provide immediate positive reinforcement when him or her produces a correct response.
- If your child makes a mistake, do not say, “that’s wrong.” Instead, ask him or her to try again, or give your child the correct response and have him or her repeat it. Immediate corrective feedback is more effective than delayed.
- Work with the professionals who are working with your child. Participate in the planning of your child’s education, share your knowledge of who your child is, and promote addressing your child’s specific needs and not the label of DS.
- Find out what your child is learning at school and look for ways to incorporate it at home.
- Be flexible with achieving goals (i.e. if your child has difficulty writing with a pencil, teach him or her to write using a computer)
- Present only a few stimuli/objects at a time.
- Ask your child to repeat or rephrase instructions to make sure him or her has understood the task at hand.
- Look for social opportunities in your community. This will not only help your child develop social skills but also to have fun!
- Talk with other parents in similar situations as yourself. This was you can get practical advice and emotional support.
- Be patient and hopeful. Your child has their whole life ahead of them to learn and grow.
Most of all, give as much love and support to your child. Just like any one else, that’s what they need the most!