By Maria O’Bryan
As schools increasingly embrace inclusion, and given that one in just under 700 children will be born with Down syndrome, there’s a good chance that children with Down syndrome and children without Down syndrome will have the chance to meet and become friends in school. For parents whose kids want to host children with Down syndrome for playdates, it’s helpful to know a few things about this often-misunderstood condition in order to ensure a better playdate for everyone.
1. First of all, know that most parents of children with Down syndrome aren’t looking for sympathy. While many parents do go through an initial emotional adjustment when they first learn their child has Down syndrome – which sometimes includes grieving – they typically aren’t focused on their child’s limitations by the time that child is in school. Rather, they’re looking for their child to be included in class events and social activities.
It also helps to know that children with Down syndrome are more similar to children without Down syndrome than many might think. While children with Down syndrome experience mild to moderate cognitive delays, they have the same hopes, dreams and emotions as other children, and a great number of these children grow up to live independent, productive lives in a variety of industries.
2. If a child with Down syndrome is misbehaving, it’s best to redirect behavior by explaining what you want, as opposed to saying something like “stop” or “no.” For example, instead of “Don’t chase the dog,” you might try “We are gentle with the dog to make her happy.”
3. A child with Down syndrome is typically more visual than verbal. If you’re offering a child with Down syndrome a choice – for example, cheese or pepperoni pizza – it’s best to show the child both pieces and let him or her pick. If you ask rather than show, he or she likely will say the last item you offer regardless of what he or she really wants.
4. Children with Down syndrome often understand more than they can express, so it’s helpful to use yes or no questions instead of more open-ended ones.
5. Finally, it’s important to remember that children with Down syndrome, like all children, are individuals with strengths and weaknesses. It’s okay to check in with parents of a child with Down syndrome before the experience to see what he or she likes, is good at and finds frustrating, in order to help ensure everyone has a good time.
Most importantly, don’t be intimidated by inviting a child with Down syndrome to your home. Not only will a playdate allow your children to learn from each other, but you will gain greater understanding of what children with Down syndrome are capable of doing.