World Down Syndrome Day is a global awareness day that is observed on 21 March every year. Children with Down Syndrome face many challenges; many of which are not unique to Down Syndrome and are treated with typical interventions.
Children with Down Syndrome have differences in their skeleton and bone structure, the way they look is different and they have immune deficits and differences in hormones. The way they think, and the development of their brain often leads to illnesses similar to Alzheimer disease, and they might experience problems with memory, thinking and behaviour. It is therefore important that you as parents, care-givers, educators, family and the community are well prepared and equipped with knowledge and skills to help children with Down Syndrome live their best lives.
Language and speech are very important in the development of any child, and to understand and communicate in any language is vital. Language is a process which is learned and developed from birth to adulthood. It takes place by gradually adding and developing on prior knowledge and understanding forming continuous development. You will notice ‘communication spurts’ where a child goes through a rapid process of development, with understanding and greater vocabulary. Children need to experience language from an early age as it enables them to interact with their world and express emotions. The more a child is exposed to language and vocabulary, the more they understand, vocalise, and are able to learn.
Language development in children with Down Syndrome is often difficult. Research suggests children understand more than they are able to express. Most children with Down Syndrome have speech delays, which can cause frustration as they can’t communicate thoughts or ideas as effectively as they would like.
It is important to establish a ‘language’ with Down Syndrome children to make communication possible. This could include anything from single words to head movements, mumbling a sound or any hand gestures. It’s important to remember that we cannot expect the same form and means of communication from them. Down Syndrome children struggle to understand the world the way we do, because their minds use the information differently and because of this, we struggle to understand what they are trying to say.
Older children with Down Syndrome are often incredibly loving, empathetic and socially sensitive to what is going on in the world around them. These children are very aware of those that are kind, compassionate and those that are rude, insensitive and who tease.
As with anyone, Down Syndrome children do not like to be teased and don’t like it when they are not accepted and welcomed into an environment. Children like to be included in conversations and respond to questions, but often they do not have the language ability or confidence to engage in general conversation. It is important that children with Down Syndrome are allowed to access their world.
Some really important tips include:
- Don’t be scared to take your child out into the community
- Let your child get used to being around people
- Allow your child to interact with other children
- When something upsets your child, show compassion and see if they are able to soothe or calm themselves
- Encourage children to solve their own problems or challenges. If they spilled their yoghurt on the floor, allow the child to come up with a suitable solution
- Allow children to explore
- Allow children to understand tone of voice and therefore highlight danger
- Say the names of items and repeat them regularly
- Ensure that children have routine and know what to expect in various situations
Within the social development, there is a need for language skills because it connects people. Connecting with people in communities is a challenge for children with Down syndrome. Developing their communication skills needs to assist them to interact with the community not hinder them.
Helping Down syndrome children to communicate and express emotions will help children navigate and understand their environment
- Children will know how to respond when someone greets them
- Children will know how to respond when someone gets upset or is unhappy
- Children will be able to ask for directions
- Children will be able to avoid and warn of danger
- Children will be able to use and understand traffic and house rules
It is important that parents of Down Syndrome children are flexible, creative and persevere, because anything you do and say can be understood and used as communication.
How can YOU help children with Down Syndrome live their best lives? Share this article and others like it to help raise awareness and understanding in others.
*Dr Lauren Stretch is the Managing Director of Early Inspiration