Caring for a child with Down Syndrome is like tending a delicate flower in your garden. While many flowers in the garden grow with basic care, growing a special flower requires extra time and careful work. Each flower is unique and has its own beauty, but seeing the rare, carefully nurtured flower bloom is extra special! Similarly, it is always rewarding to observe children blossom into their own special person; while it does take extra effort to teach a child with Down Syndrome, it is then especially rewarding to see their physical, intellectual and emotional growth.
I have cared for several children with Down Syndrome, one being a boy whom I nannied for three years. Following is some knowledge I have gained, and some observations I have made.
When caring for a child with Down Syndrome:
1. Consider the child as an individual first. Having Down Syndrome is only a part of the child. It is common to refer to a person with Down Syndrome (or with any special need) using their special need as the first part of their title, for example, ‘I nanny a Down’s boy.’ I now consider it the other way around: ‘I nanny a sweet four-year-old boy. He has Down Syndrome.’
2. Educate yourself to what Down Syndrome is. It is the result of an extra 21st chromosome. As with all people, someone with Down Syndrome should be treated with respect and cared for with love.
3. Children with Down Syndrome typically have mild to moderate mental retardation. They often also have low muscle tone. To develop to the highest level of their individual ability, they will likely receive occupational therapy to develop fine motor skills, physical therapy to develop gross motor skills, as well as speech therapy and special education. You will be involved in implementing some of these therapies. This is not a daunting task; it only requires consistency of care, and much patience.
4. Dr. Langdon Down is the physician who first described the features of the syndrome, thus the name Down (or Down’s) Syndrome.
5. Although each person is unique and individual, it seems a part of the extra 21st chromosome which a person with Down Syndrome carries has also given them a special capability to love, and to be loved. Of course they are not always happy and content; they are also affected by pain, rejection and sorrow. The individuals whom I have known who have Down Syndrome love without restriction. Unless you give them reason to dislike you, they love everyone in their lives, regardless of status, appearance, age or gender.