The core skills are acquired gradually, one at a time. So children will usually speak and walk before they are toilet trained. While a core skill is being acquired, the other skills are generally integrated more slowly. It is advisable to build on something that already exists, so do not force the issue with learning. Imagine you are following a linear progression on a set path, and don’t get dispersed on multiple paths.
The child needs things to be made tangible: it is best to use visual and tactile learning methods. When the child succeeds, he/she should be congratulated accordingly. Verbal encouragement is highly beneficial. Congratulate your child by saying that you are proud of him or her. If you tell off the child, it is important to know that he or she will be more affected than other children. As success gives rise to success, the child finds him or herself in a very positive spiral: for example, if you use a good-points system, the child will play at winning more points through increasingly positive behaviour.
An easily acquired skill takes six months to acquire, a slow skill takes eighteen months, and a difficult skill takes even more time. It is important to maintain the skills on a regular basis. Down syndrome children make progress over a longer period of time, so a lot of repetition is needed. Five minutes a day can work wonders. Down syndrome children need time to assimilate and understand because they need more thinking time than other children before acting on a given instruction. One doctor told a young couple: “You have a normal child who will take seven times longer to learn than others”.
It is advisable to ask children to do one thing at a time and to increase educational demands progressively, according to the child’s possibilities. And, above all, it is important to trust the child. By observing and getting to know your child, you will be amazed by his or her unexpected potential and by the strategies applied to reach a goal.
There is no specific method for the child’s learning. Skills are acquired in a slower, more staggered way compared to other children. It is therefore important, as far as possible, to favour certain learning conditions. For example, activities in small groups favour a climate of calm and concentration. Reducing the amount of information for an exercise and finding a way of making abstract concepts concrete will help the child to understand what is being asked. Like for all children, educational demands must be increased, but more progressively than usual.
Support can be provided depending on the difficulties and potential of each child. This support must take into account their difficulties to conceptualise, the pace of their understanding and accomplishment of tasks, their low attention threshold and language difficulties. In addition, visual memory is often good, unlike their auditive memory. Visual support (images, gestures) for all learning is therefore very useful.
Down syndrome children are generally highly receptive to imitation, which especially helps for acquiring good social habits. A work routine provides a framework and can be helpful as long as it is not too rigid and does not imprison the child in an automated learning system. As part of a specific educational project developed with parents and educational staff, a tailored programme for each child will help him or her make better progress.
Visual, auditive and motor stimulation, which start at a very young age, is important for developing skills. Specialists are there to advise parents in this area. Make sure you do not overload the child’s schedule, and remember to give them periods to play, daydream and invent – important for the development of all children.
These two skills are intrinsically linked. They are important for improving autonomy in future life. However, each child will go at his or her own pace. Some will read, albeit at different levels, and others will not. These skills will depend largely on the child’s work with his/her speech therapist, backed up by their parents. With proper surveillance by an ophthalmologist and solid educational and re-educational support, the child could read and write.
However, some children will not manage to read or write, even with ample support. These situations are reminders that parents’ care and high quality professional help cannot do everything. Do not think that overloading the child with education will surmount all difficulties.
The speech therapist should suggest the most suitable choice of reading methods for your child. Like all children, Down syndrome children have three learning channels: visual, auditive and kinaesthetic (body movement). It is important to identify your child’s preferred channel to facilitate learning.
Psychomotor and speech therapy rehabilitations help the child to develop fine motor skills and visual-spatial functions. These functions include visual information, shape recognition, perception of perspectives, orientation and spatial organisation of visual elements. For example, there are children who can reproduce geometric shapes.
The way the child holds a pen requires supervision. There are pens with triangular foam grips specially made for children who experience difficulty writing. You may consult the specialist about using the computer as an aid.
The point is to make the child familiar with numbers so that, later on, he or she will become as autonomous as possible in daily actions that require maths, like shopping for example. This skill acquisition is much longer and takes a lot of repetition before being assimilated.
Learning different techniques can pave the way to greater autonomy. The different techniques will allow for better gripping skills with both hands and better hand-to-eye coordination. You will have to teach them to do up and undo (buttons, Velcro, knots, zips, etc.). This skill is highly important for the child’s autonomy, especially for getting dressed and undressed.
You will also have to teach the child to pour, screw on and unscrew, fold, cut, stick, release, thread (beads, needle), carry, build, disassemble, etc. It is also beneficial to teach the child about the senses (hearing, sight, touch, smell, taste). In a closed bag, for example, you can get the child to identify the cube, the ball, etc. The aim is to sharpen the child’s tactile recognition.