A while back, a friend asked me if parenting a child with Down syndrome is different than raising my other children has been. In this case, I can compare him only to my biological children because Dominic is just a year old today so I have not had time to see what his development and temperament are like at an older age (and the children we were privileged to adopt were older, so I missed seeing them at this young age).
At face value, it is a simple question, but it is also a complex one. Certainly, there are differences that can be attributed to Dominic having Down syndrome. We can see that Dom has low muscle tone, and that has delayed his physical development. He sits beautifully, but has not mastered getting himself into a sitting position. He really wants to stand and is often trying to pull up, but he needs help. He likes to stand by a short table and play, and he can do that for several minutes. Once standing, he often gets distracted and wobbles all over so we stick close by and guard him so that he doesn’t hurt himself on the way down.
It is certainly true that being wobbly is universal for young children who are learning to stand, I’d say, based on raising 6 bio kids from birth, that he is shaky in a different way. He is either less inquisitive or more content in his circumstances than the other children. Depends on your perspective I guess. My older kids would get easily bored, but Dominic is content to sit longer and play with toys longer than the 5 minutes it took for the others to tire of them.
I did have one child who waited until 16 months to begin crawling, well beyond the expected age of 8 months (by which time the others had mastered it). She compensated by scooting all over with her foot steering her around and had no need to crawl. Dominic, likewise, is not crawling yet. His physical therapist says that this is in part due to the low muscle tone and in part due to a slightly different proportion to his body than most other babies have. I would add, from a cognitive development stand point, that Dominic doesn’t seem to get it that he could crawl if he wanted to. If I position him into an “all-fours” configuration, he seems to think that is a great time to pick up his hand and suck his thumb. My other kids would have enjoyed being up and probably started rocking back and forth.
Dominic is, by far, the happiest baby I’ve had. Yes, this does go along with that old stereotype. I think that Down syndrome may certainly have an impact here, but it is also true that this kid is just loved on constantly. The older kids come in while he is still sleeping and start arguing about who gets to play with him first. He rarely has the opportunity to become too upset, in part because if he yells, the race is on to get there and help him. The reward we get is priceless–smiles, kisses, and all-around sweetness.
For a child with a potential communication delay, all of this immediate response to anything he says or does serves to help reinforce the power of communication. He has taken to grunting in a certain way to get attention. Today when he woke from his nap, he grunted at me. I looked over. He waved. I waved back, then looked away. He grunted again. I looked over. He signed “mama” and grinned.
We have been signing with Dominic for a few months now, though the past several weeks we have not introduced many new signs. He consistently and accurately signs “Mom,” “Dad,” and “milk.” I think he signs “Bella” and we’ve seen him a few time where we thought he was naming Sophia as well. He waves “hi” but not “bye.”
Dominic understands when I tell him “all done” and he reacts generally by fussing. A few days ago, he shut his eyes and shook his head to show no. It was precious.
The one sign we have started lately is “more.” This takes a couple people to work on, and we do it when he is eating, so he is likely to confuse it–as all my other children have done at this age—with “eat.” That’s OK for now. I like to have Bella behind him helping him sign “more” and then I give him another bite of whatever he is eating.
Starting Solid Foods
Speaking of eating, we just skipped that whole thinly strange baby food stage. None of my kids did real well with this, and it is partly because it is supposed to come at a time when a child has a natural tongue thrusting action when swallowing. This is because the mouth of an infant is designed to suckle and that forward placement results in a strong suck. As a child ages, the ability to swallow in a more adult pattern begins to emerge.
Dominic’s eating patterns have very closely mirrored the development of my other children. For all but one, we waited until each child was more ready to eat and started with soft foods in teeny bites and that has worked very well for us. Currently, Dominic enjoys potatoes, cooked apples, bananas, potatoes, bread, and he is beginning to try some small bites of meat. Oh, and he loves cake and ice cream, too. Kids really are more alike than different, I think.
The kissy face!! He is getting better at imitating the movements of my mouth, and we play with oral movements a lot. He loves the ceiling fan and giggles happily when Brian picks him up to touch it (OFF, of course). He has certain games that he plays just with Dad. He has gotten the idea of object permanence–the knowledge that something exists even after it is out of sight. This is a pretty huge milestone (if I recall, I think it is expected around 8 months in a typical child), and Dominic will look for things we’ve moved, will look when someone leaves a room, will search a room if we ask “Where is ____” It also means that Peek-A-Boo is incredibly entertaining, and he will play it pretty much as long as he can find someone who will play along.
His babbling continues, and I hear a lot of new inflection in his voice, but his consonant repertoire is still pretty limited (which is why sign language is essential for helping him develop communication skills. He has a lot to say and, with low oral muscle tone, he can’t form clear words. Yet.).
Is it different parenting a child with Down syndrome?
Yes, it is, but those differences are not detriments. Dominic is an amazing child, and we are blessed to have him in our family. I see this sentiment often when I read about other families, and I hear it from other parents who are so blessed to have a child with Down syndrome. I want to add my story here because I want people to know–it is a wonderful and amazing journey.