Lily* was a nine year old girl participating in my summer camp program. She had the best sense of humour and was always smiling. Lily had asthma and other health conditions that made it more difficult for her to take part in all of the recreational activities provided. She needed more breaks, times for rest and lots of positive reinforcements and encouragement to participate. Lily taught me that with a little patience and persistence everyone can have an equal opportunity to enjoy summer camp.
Down Syndrome is one of the most common causes of an individual becoming diagnosed with an intellectually disability. The severity of the disability can range from mild to profound but is most often in the moderate range. Down Syndrome can affect a wide variety of children and does not segregate between gender, race or socio economic status. About 1 in 1000 children are diagnosed with Down Syndrome. This syndrome was one of the first to be linked to a genetic irregularity. A prenatal screening test can identify that a child has Down Syndrome prior to birth.
There are over fifty physical signs of this disorder. Characteristics may be present at birth or show up later in life. It is important to note that the number of physical characteristics that a child has does not relate to the severity of their intellectual disability. Some of the key characteristics include:
- Limited muscle tone
- Flexible joints
- Protruding tongue
- Greater risk of health conditions
- Flat facial profile
- Broad and short hands and feet
- Underdeveloped or absent nasal cartilage
- Unique development of the epicanthic fold (eyelid)
Down Syndrome is caused by the presence of an extra chromosome that affects the development of the child’s body and brain. Individuals with Down Syndrome have a disruption of chromosome 21, the smallest human chromosome. A link to the mothers’ age and the increased likelihood of having a child with Down Syndrome has been made.
The characteristics of Down Syndrome will definitely affect the child’s ability to function well in school and in social situations. They may have sensory processing issues, reduced communication skills and be hearing impaired. Children with Down Syndrome typically reach developmental milestones later than other kids and this can significantly impact their learning. Individuals may require extra support in the areas of self-care skills, speech and language, physical therapy and all academic subjects. Children will need assistance in building positive peer interactions. It is important to note that children with Down Syndrome are all unique individuals who have a large capacity to learn just at different rates.
- Use plenty of visual aids and cues
- Ensure that the child has an environment for school work that provides extra support, use a foot wedge, writing slope and textured cushion for example (Set BC has adaptive equipment)
- Provide the child with adapted pencil grips and other equipment
- Use hands on activities whenever possible
- Relate activities to real life examples for these concrete learners
- Use short and long term memory aids, visual schedules and check lists
- Shorten the assigned work or break it down into smaller tasks
- Reduce the demands for fine motor activities when frustrated
- Use object cues, objects as visuals if needed to communicate
- Provide opportunities to use technology aids like an iPad (apps like Tap to Talk and Endless ABC may be useful)
- Give the child more choices and try to include their interests in the activity whenever possible.
Helpful Articles and Websites
Ministry of Education Website
Learning Disabilities Association Vancouver
Canadian Down Syndrome Society
Down Syndrome Research Foundation
Down Syndrome Overview
National Down Syndrome Society
Changing Attitudes and Shifting Perceptions
Down Syndrome Current Focus of Research
Good Practise Guidelines for Education
Down Syndrome Overview
*Names and some details have been changed.
I am fortunate to have a background working with exceptional children with special needs. I think that it is important to understand that every child is an individual first and should not be defined by their diagnosis. And every family has the right to treat the condition however they see fit. I do believe that the decision on how to treat your child (if at all) should be made after careful consideration, education, implementation of behavioural modification plans and consultation with professionals (teachers, counsellors, Pediatricians etc.).