Down Syndrome is the most common chromosomal condition, yet there are many of us that know so little about it. As a mom of a little guy with Down Syndrome – and having been a program educator to a little one with Down Syndrome – I’d like to touch on the topic of providing care for children with this disability.
What is Down Syndrome?
Down Syndrome is a condition in which a person has an extra chromosome. Chromosomes are small bunches of genetic information which determines how a baby will develop and function in the womb and after birth.
Typically, a baby is born with 46 chromosomes (23 pairs – one set from each parent). A person with Down Syndrome is born with 47 chromosomes, with a third chromosome on the 21st pair. This is why Down Syndrome is also sometimes referred to as ‘Trisomy 21’ – meaning 3 of the 21st chromosome. This is also why World Down Syndrome Day is on March 21(3/21)!
What are the effects of Down Syndrome?
Common characteristics of a person with Down Syndrome include physical markers such as:
- small head, nose, and ears
- flattened facial profile
- short neck
- almond shaped eyes
- lack of nasal bridge
- small hands and feet
- low muscle tone (making them very flexible)
- loose joints
- a single crease on the palm of their hands
Beyond physical differences of people with Down Syndrome, there are common mental and developmental challenges associated as well. People with Down Syndrome will often have a lower IQ and are slower to learn to speak than other children.
Finally, there is a higher incidence of secondary health concerns in people with Down Syndrome – such as heart defects and issues with hearing and vision.
What causes Down Syndrome?
We know that Down Syndrome is caused by an extra chromosome, but at this time it is unknown how or why this occurs. One predictor of the occurrence of with Down Syndrome is maternal age. By around age 35, women are significantly more likely to give birth to a child with Down Syndrome.
What to expect with a Down Syndrome child in your day home/care?
At first, I know it may seem overwhelming to care for a child with a disability. It means caring for a child in a different way than what you’re used to. However, caring for a child with a disability is just as rewarding and fun as with any child; it just means you may need to learn a few new things, such as:
- Specific non-verbal cues and communication
- Learning how to change a diaper for a 10 year old
- Adding to your inventory of toys to include toys that appeal to someone with a sensory disorder
- Adjusting group play to include everyone’s needs, and teaching other children about the importance of inclusion and differences
Here is a great article that covers myth busting about Down Syndrome, how having it affects learning, and information about communication, skill building, and how you can adjust with a Down Syndrome child in your classroom.
Promoting understanding and inclusion
Don’t forget to talk about our differences and disabilities. Being open with kids’ questions about disabilities as opposed to changing subjects and glossing over the topic will help prevent bullying and encourage curiosity and inclusion. It’s important to teach our littles to use respectful terminology – like “disability” – to replace words like “stupid”, “disabled” and “retarded.”
Support and resources
- Ups and Downs Calgary– Down Syndrome support community
- PREP Program – Support and education
- Canadian Down Syndrome Society – Information, awareness, resources
October is Down Syndrome awareness month
How do we celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness month? Colourful socks!!
This happens because socks are shaped like chromosomes so the idea of wearing socks for the month invites everyone to wear a little extra chromosome, like those with Down Syndrome do every day.
I also like to celebrate with education. Educate yourself with some of the interesting facts about Down Syndrome and teach your day home children a little bit about Down Syndrome.