As a parent of a child with Down syndrome, you play an important role in helping your child reach his or her full potential. You and your child will have challenges and accomplishments.
Babies and young children
Your child will likely take more time than other children to reach certain milestones. But his or her achievements are just as significant and exciting to watch. Be patient, and encourage your young child as he or she learns.
- Walking and other motor development milestones. You can help your baby and young child strengthen muscles through directed play. As your child gets older, you can work with a physical therapist and your doctor to design an exercise program to help your child maintain and increase muscle strength and physical skills.
- Self-feeding. Help your child learn to eat independently by sitting down together at meals. Use gradual steps to teach your child how to eat. Start with allowing your child to eat with his or her fingers and offering thick liquids to drink.
- Dressing. Teach your child how to dress himself or herself by taking extra time to explain and practice.
- Communicating. Simple measures, such as looking at your baby while speaking or showing and naming objects, can help your baby learn to talk.
- Grooming and hygiene. Help your child learn the importance of being clean and looking his or her best. Establish a daily routine for bathing and getting ready. As your child gets older, this will become increasingly important. Gradually add new tasks to the routine, such as putting on deodorant.
Encourage your child to learn, socialize, and be physically active. For example, enroll your child in classes with other children of the same age. Think of ways you can stimulate your child's thinking skills without making tasks too difficult. But know that it is okay for your child to be challenged and sometimes fail.
Enroll your young child (infant through age 3) in an early-intervention program. These programs have staff who are trained to monitor and encourage your child's development. Talk with a doctor about programs in your area.
Keep encouraging your child to learn, socialize, and be physically active. Here are some tips:
- Be involved with your child's education. Most children who have Down syndrome can be included in a regular classroom. Your child may need an adapted curriculum and may sometimes attend special classes.
- Know that your child has a legal right to education. These laws also protect your rights as a parent to be fully informed about or to challenge educational decisions concerning your child.
- Be active with your child. This will help your child feel better, whether or not he or she has weight problems. To learn more, see:
Adolescents and teens
Socially, teens who have Down syndrome have the same needs as everyone else. Most will want to date, socialize, and form intimate relationships. You can help your child develop healthy relationships by teaching appropriate social skills and behavior. Peer acceptance and self-esteem are affected by how well your preteen or teen addresses these issues.
Here are some tips:
- As your child enters puberty, teach proper grooming and hygiene.
- Encourage your child to take part in school and community activities. Teens usually graduate from high school, unless their disabilities are severe. Provide opportunities for your child to form healthy friendships. This is critical for your child's happiness and sense of belonging.
- Be aware of the social difficulties and vulnerabilities your child faces. Start early to prepare your child for healthy adult relationships and the possibility of an intimate relationship.
- Teach respect for his or her body and the bodies of others.
- Talk openly about your morals and beliefs.
- Provide sex education that is honest and presented in a way that your child can understand. Talk about the reproductive and intimate aspects of sex.
- Discuss birth control methods and safer sex practices to prevent sexually transmitted infections.
During your child's teen years, you may also want to start planning for your child's future jobs and living arrangements. Many people who have Down syndrome live independently as adults in group homes or apartments with support services. But most group homes and community centers require a basic level of self-sufficiency, such as being able to eat, dress, and bathe independently. Vocational training helps many young adults learn how to work in many settings, such as stores, restaurants, and hotels.
Most adults who have Down syndrome function well in society. They often have regular jobs, have friends and romantic relationships, and take part in community activities.
An adult with Down syndrome benefits from working outside the home and having social activities. Having an active lifestyle with continued learning makes anyone, including a person with Down syndrome, feel more vibrant and feel that his or her life is meaningful.