I recently went to a SkillShare workshop on Supporting Children with Down’s Syndrome.
I was hoping to learn how best to manage his sometimes challenging behaviour, but, it turned out that the workshop was actually about supporting the development of communication.
I’m glad I didn’t know, otherwise I might not have gone, as Freddie talks relatively well, uses some Makaton, and generally gets his point across (with a bit of help).
As a result I found out lots of things I didn’t know I needed to know, but there was one particular aspect of the workshop that left me with questions, questions to which I have no answers, but which I think are worth pondering none-the-less: not just by me, but by society as whole, when it’s got a minute.
She told us that our children were not just following the typical pattern of development and learning but at a much slower rate (as many think they do).
But that they have a specific learning (and communication) profile – this describes the particular way that individuals with Down’s Syndrome tend to learn.
To my surprise it wasn’t just a list of cognitive difficulties; it listed strengths too, not just as an afterthought, but first, and as an integral part of the profile.
As the parent of a child with Down’s, you get so used to hearing about the potential problems and difficulties, the worst case scenario.
When they are, it’s usually as a half-forgotten appendix to the gloom; an ‘if you’re lucky’ scenario.
Hearing it presented in this way, upside-first, was like a draught of champagne. I was fizzing.
From the profile she outlined, I gathered that our children have ‘a strong motivation to interact’.
I’d already worked this one out for myself – Freddie’s always been a flirt (‘a little tart’, his dad says).
Like a typical child, and they also have strong information processing skills, when the information is presented visually.
Generally, individuals with Down’s syndrome understand far more than they can communicate, due to their specific speech and language difficulties.
All this got me thinking (leaving me unsupervised in possession of a loaded brain is like leaving a chimp alone with a power-tool: it’s not going to end well).
If you differ from the majority in some way, you might well struggle in a world that does not acknowledge that there is more than one way of ‘being’, more than one way of doing things.
Where does the dividing line fall between difference and difficulty?
Why is it that we seem to favour the linguistic and mathematical/logical approach to learning over the visual and kinaesthetic?
How much of my child’s learning difficulties are caused by his ‘condition’, and how much by a society that does not value, nor even properly acknowledge, difference?
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