If you’re the parent of a child diagnosed with Down Syndrome, you may at first feel overwhelmed by feelings of loss, guilt, and fear. Talking with other parents of kids with DS may help you deal with the initial shock and grief and find ways to look toward the future. Many parents find that learning as much as they can about DS helps alleviate some of their fears. Experts recommend enrolling kids with Down Syndrome in early intervention services as soon as possible after your child is born. Physical, occupational, and speech therapists and early-childhood educators can work with your child to develop motor skills and language, and show you how to encourage these skills at home.
Many states provide free early-intervention services to kids with disabilities from birth to age 3, so check with your child’s doctor or a social worker to determine what resources are available in your area. Once your child is 3 years old, he or she is guaranteed educational services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under IDEA, local school districts must provide “a free appropriate education in the least restrictive environment” and an individualized education plan (IEP) for each child. Where to send your child to school can be a difficult decision.
Some kids with Down Syndrome have needs that are best met in a specialized program, while many others do well attending neighborhood schools alongside peers who don’t have DS. Studies have shown that this type of situation, known as inclusion, is beneficial for both the child with DS as well as the other children.
Your school district’s child study team can work with you to determine what’s best for your child, but remember, any decisions can and should involve your input, as you are your child’s best advocate. Today, many children with Down Syndrome grow up going to school and enjoying many of the same activities as other kids their age. A few go on to college. Many transition to semi-independent living. Still others continue to live at home but are able to hold jobs, thus finding their own success in the community.