So, a special Mom in your life just found out she’s carrying a child with Down Syndrome. She’s not alone. About one in every 700 babies born worldwide have the genetic syndrome. While this may not be the news they were hoping for, it is not the end of the world. There are lots of ways to celebrate this new baby that meet the needs of both parent and child.
First of all, while you are handling the invitations, be sure to let people know about the preferred language. For example, it is now considered rude to refer to the baby as a “Down Syndrome Child." It puts the emphasis on the difference rather than the baby. Instead, always remember that the person comes first. Also remind people that Down Syndrome is a condition. It isn’t a disease. So, the child isn’t “suffering" from Down Syndrome or “afflicted" with it.
But encourage guests not to sugar coat or make light of the situation. Children with Down Syndrome experience a full range of emotions. They aren’t “always happy." And families may come to feel they are blessed, but it isn’t for some well-meaning guest to announce it.
Instead, focus on what you can do to prepare the family for their special little bundle of joy.
Of course, always ask the Mom, but it is never too early to begin thinking about outreach. Is there someone else in your common sphere of friends that is already raising a child with Downs? Consider inviting her. Thankfully, we live in an age where networking is as easy as logging on to a social media site. But it’s always great to meet people face-to-face.
There are a lot of books specifically designed for parents of children with Downs. Encourage a wide variety of books that look at both the medical aspect of raising a child with Downs, as well as social and intellectual development. But don’t forget to look at books that offer a first-hand peek at life with Downs. There are many parents who have opened their lives to show other parents the ups and downs of the syndrome.
But don’t forget siblings. Just because big brother is three, don’t imagine that he hasn’t picked up on the worry around him. This is a great time to help the family stock up on books that will teach and reinforce all the things that every child can do, whether they are living with Down’s or not.
Down Syndrome has specific genetic issues that go beyond the shape of the baby’s eyes. Children with Down Syndrome often has issues with congestion. They also tend to have looser joints, giving some children the feel of a floppy doll. Most children struggle meeting intellectual milestones. All of these are good reasons to help the parents stock up on items that will make their lives and the life of their child easier and happier.
A nasal bulb is a must for any baby. But many parents dealing with Downs find that combining the nasal aspirator with a saline spray helps even more. Another common problem is acid reflux. Placing a crib wedge under the mattress raises the baby’s head and prevents her from waking to heartburn. Also, because their legs tend to have lower muscles tone, be sure to choose a baby carrier that keeps their legs closer together. Perhaps, consider an ergonomic baby wrap that can be used in a variety of ways. That way Mom or Dad can use the sling in whatever way fits the baby best as she grows.
As you may have guessed, babies with Down Syndrome use the exact same furniture as any other child. However, they tend to sit up a little bit later than typical babies. So, if your shower is planning on purchasing a high chair or a stroller take that into consideration. For example, the little one might be ready for cereal before he can reliably sit up. Look at high chairs that tip slightly. That way the parents can keep the baby’s head up to aid swallowing while they are lying against the chair’s back.
In much the same way, look for strollers that fully support the baby’s back and neck, even as they grow. Tailor the stroller to meet the needs of the parents. Do they live in the country and will be using it on grass? Then look for a stroller with larger, all-terrain wheels. Are they urbanites? Look for something that folds up small enough to store easily.
Like any other developmental delay, early intervention is key with Down Syndrome. There are many toys designed to help maximize a baby’s early physical and intellectual growth. Look for toys and play mats that encourage and keep the baby safe during tummy time. This helps the baby develop strong back and neck muscles. Also look at toys that introduce letters and letter sounds. The earlier Mom and Dad expose the baby to these basic concepts, the longer he will have to master them. There are many early alphabet and reading programs that parents can start as early as 3 or 4 months after birth. Finally, many children with Down Syndrome struggle with pronunciation. This can be frustrating for not only the child, but also parents, teachers and caregivers. Helping children learn signs early can mean a lot more peace in the house. There are a variety of videos and books that teach little ones how to communicate.
Ultimately, the most important thing to keep in mind with a shower for a family facing Down Syndrome is that you are celebrating. Most people with Down Syndrome live long and healthy lives. Celebrate the love. Celebrate the family.
Celebrate this new little life.