Adults with Down syndrome have a range of needs, abilities, and desires, just like any other group of people. Some will learn to drive, have relationships, and live almost entirely on their own. Others will need more day-to-day care, but even then may still be able to hold a part-time job and participate in meaningful social activities.
With the right support, they can have rich, fulfilling lives and feel part of their communities. There are more options now than ever for jobs and living arrangements. And doctors are always learning more about health issues people with Down syndrome face as they get older. So it helps to know what options are out there and what you’ll want to keep an eye on.
Planning for Change
As teenagers with Down syndrome finish their high school years and enter into adulthood, they face the same questions as other young people. They need to figure out where to live, what to do for work, and how to create new social circles outside of school. It’s exciting, but stressful for any young adult, and can be even harder for someone with Down syndrome. That makes it important to start planning as early as possible.
The Individualized Education Program (IEP) that children with Down syndrome have in public schools includes transition planning. The goal is to picture the future and think about the skills and services teens will need as they become adults. When you work closely with teachers, doctors, and therapists to make a solid plan, it can ease the stress of going out into the world.
Sometimes, as the changes get closer, teens with Down syndrome may seem moody, or they may not do as well in school. Keep in mind that school provides not just a place to learn, but a regular social structure with built-in supports, like teachers and an IEP. Thinking about moving away from that can be hard to get used to. If you notice changes like these, check in with your doctor or with the school for some extra help.
Adults with Down syndrome have several possibilities for where and how to live. It’s all a matter of matching needs and desires. Some will live:
- At home, because it makes the most sense for them and their families
- In student housing, if they go to college
- In a house or apartment on their own, but with services to support them
- In a group home with others who have disabilities (these homes are staffed around the clock.)
Jobs and Higher Education
Some adults with Down syndrome go on to college or trade schools. Others get jobs.
There are three types of jobs someone with Down syndrome can look for:
- Competitive. These are typical jobs that anyone applies for, and there’s no extra support in place.
- Supported. A job coach helps them come up to speed as they work along with people who don’t have disabilities. This is the most common type of job.
- Sheltered. In this case, they work with other people who have disabilities. These jobs tend to be manual labor, like putting goods together.
Relationships and Social Well-Being
Social activities help people feel fulfilled in life. As with anyone else, work may fill part of that role, but it’s also important for people with Down syndrome to take part in sports, hobbies, and other interests.
Many with Down syndrome also date, have loving relationships, and get married. That means it’s important to talk to teens with Down syndrome about things like sexuality, birth control, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Some may also want to start families, although men with Down syndrome usually can’t father children. Women who have it can have babies, though they’re more likely to have miscarriages and babies born early. Parenting is hard for anyone, and even more so for people with Down syndrome, so they’ll likely need extra help.
People with Down syndrome also tend to get age-related health problems earlier than others. This includes dementia, memory loss, and problems with judgment or changes in personality that are similar to Alzheimer’s disease.
It can be hard to tell if these issues are a sign of Alzheimer’s or something else, like stress, depression, or a medical problem. You can help by noting when and how often these changes happen, then checking in with your doctor.
Other health issues adults with Down syndrome tend to face include:
- Being overweight
- Cataracts and other problems seeing
- Early menopause
- High cholesterol
- Thyroid illness
- Increased risk of leukemia
To help someone with Down syndrome stay healthy as they grow older, make sure they get regular check-ups and are able to communicate about their medical health.