Having Down Syndrome automatically puts my daughter in a negative light, in some minds. People are unaware of the potential of someone with Down Syndrome. They truly don’t know any better. You don’t know what you don’t know. It’s our job as parents, teachers, family members and friends of a person with Down Syndrome to educate those who are ignorant. That’s why Down Syndrome Awareness is so close to my heart.
What parent doesn’t brag about their children’s accomplishments from time to time?
We should be no different. Brag your child with special needs! Down Syndrome Awareness is an effort to educate people that don’t know someone with special needs, so that our children gain respect and have more opportunities in their future.
My daughter is non-verbal. That does not mean she’s less intelligent that a verbal person with Down Syndrome. But unfortunately, the perception is just that. If you spend any amount of time with my daughter, Faith, it will become very clear to you just how smart she really is. She understands everything you say to her. And you can see those little wheels turning in her head as she is thinking about and decides how to react to what you just told her. It’s quite adorable, actually. Yes, I’m biased, but that’s the mommy-pride. And that’s okay.
She wants to learn. She gets so excited to show me she knows the answer and that she can follow directions. She loves to be a helper!
Once I noticed that she had the receptive knowledge, I knew I could tackle the next milestone. I started with picture cards when she was very young, like most moms do with their toddlers. “Give Mommy the bear”, I’d say. And with 8-10 pictures laid out in no particular order, she would scan her choices and quickly give me the bear. The pride and joy that came with that first moment of realization that she in fact understood, and more than even I gave her credit for, was enormous. I gradually increased the amount of cards on display and she rose to the occasion. After Faith mastered pictures, and colors, I moved on to words. And as a mom who is also a teacher, I starting using grade level sight words. I began with Kindergarten words that also had the pictures with the words. Every time she mastered a set of flashcards I progressed to the next grade level. Quickly she showed an interest in words without pictures. You can see here, Faith was very young, about 7 and was already recognizing words without pictures.
Don’t let them get stagnant. Keep progressing to another level once you’ve seen mastery.
She chooses to practice her reading. It’s one of her favorite games we play. She gets excited and takes pride in showing off her skills. As I sit and write this now, Faith is 14 years old and in 8th grade. She has mastered third grade sight words on flashcards and we are working on 4th grade. She also loves Boggle, which we’ve adapted to her needs and current level. She matches the correct letter of the cubes to the word on the card and spells each one as we sing and cheer or act them out. Such fun!
***Side Note*** This is one of her ways to communicate. Just think about how frustrating it is for your non-verbal child, when they cannot express what they want or need. Words on index cards can help them communicate, besides practicing their reading. In addition to signing, Faith gives me a card that says chicken, when she wants her chicken strips.***
I’ve learned that the more she gets challenged, the happier she is and the more she accomplishes. However… Let us not forget timing. Timing is everything. If your child is anything like mine, they have a stubborn streak. Let them go at their own pace. Like any child, if they feel forced, they will object. Remember, you KNOW YOUR child. Trust your own instincts as a parent.
And remember, it is ‘our job’ to educate people who don’t have the pleasure of knowing someone with Down Syndrome. Especially when your child is non-verbal, don’t accept the mis-guided thinking of those who underestimate their abilities. Our children want to learn and are capable of more than we all realize.
In my children’s book, Have a Little Faith, I show how capable children with Down Syndrome are, promote acceptance of children with Down Syndrome and encourage all children to never give up when things are difficult.
So to all the other ‘Special Needs Moms’ out there, you are doing a terrific job! Keep the ‘Faith’.