With Daniel’s diagnosis ante-natally we set about reading about how children develop, and particularly where the difficulties are for children with Down Syndrome. I found it fascinating. From cognitive development, gross and fine motor skills, to speech and language and even emotional development I realised how much would be beneficial for parents to know, way more than spending hours looking at prams, parents-to-be should be understanding how their children develop.
Having seen how much importance there is in on the early stages of development with its impact on adult life, it has been so much easier to invest in our children when they are young in order to maximise their wellbeing as adolescents and adults.
I have also become quite passionate about understanding the importance of allowing children to develop many skills themselves, particularly around gross motor development. I read many articles and studies on natural development and was fascinated by it.
Now, obviously with Daniel it was very different, if we had just left him to do things by himself, he wouldn’t have just got there. People used to frequently say, when he finally hit a milestone like crawling at 15/16 months, “You see, they all get there in their own time”. Except I was doing daily physio and had been since he was months old. It was hard work that got Daniel to crawl. Not him in his own time. So there are exceptions to allowing development to occur naturally.
For typically developing children though we have embraced a very natural approach. We did not use any props with either boy (like Jumperoos or walkers) and limited time in the car seat (Daniel only ever went in the car seat to get from place to place, we never took it out of the car) but with Rory we went further and did not place him in positions until he did them himself, so no walking holding his hands/arms as he learnt to walk. Anyone who know him knows he is an incredibly mobile little boy. He was sitting at 4.5 months, crawling at 5 months, walking at 9 months. All completely by himself. By 10 months old he was safely climbing stairs (he has had a couple of falls but nothing serious), and getting off our tall divan bed by himself. He is very very short which stops him from doing everything he’d like as his legs aren’t long enough particularly at parks, but you’ve never met as young a child so competent at climbing. His lack of height probably really helps!
Speech has been an issue with both our boys. Daniel again needed, and continues to need, much intervention for his speech. Rory at present I’m not too concerned as he’s not long turned 2 but his speech clarity isn’t the best. His language skills are incredible though. He uses different tenses and has complex vocabulary Daniel still doesn’t have. Reading about how speech and language develop has really helped me assist both boys to develop their language and improve their speech sounds.
And emotionally, understanding how immature children’s brains are has really helped us not have too high expectations of the boys’ behaviour but instead we seek to minimise situations where they would struggle to behave, so we don’t keep them out late when they’re tired, or allow them to veer too far from regular mealtimes so hunger isn’t an issue. We seek to connect with them first when correcting and addressing behaviour, empathising where that’s appropriate too. It’s not the way our generation was really brought up and it is definitely counter cultural now in the world of time outs, shaming and, unfortunately still commonly enough – physical punishment.
I try and encourage mums-to-be to read up on how children develop as much as possible. After all we’re fascinated by their development ante-natally and could really benefit from learning how, why and when our babies and young children are developing so we can support that learning as best as possible, giving them the best foundation for their later life.