Focus on the Family
Young children with Down syndrome are highly valued members of their families, which have already accompanied them through a wide range of experiences, even before they enter the Ontario education system. There is no one way to be a good parent of a child with Down syndrome, however, so awareness of the diversity of family experiences is important.
Young children with Down syndrome transition into Kindergarten from a variety of educational contexts:
- Nursery school
- Community programmes (i.e., story hour at the library, swimming lessons)
Young children with Down syndrome may have had a range of experiences before entering kindergarten:
- Medical intervention including surgery/surgeries
- Assessment by experts (i.e., hearing, vision)
- Exposure to therapies (i.e., physical therapy/PT, speech language/SLT, occupational therapy/OT)
Their families will have diverse backgrounds:
- They may be new to Ontario
- They may speak a language other than English at home
- They may come from urban or rural locations
- They may belong to racial, ethnic, religious, or other communities or groups that have been marginalized, and may feel less included in the school
- They may already be linked to a local Down Syndrome association or support group
Each family’s way of understanding Down syndrome will affect how they interact with the educational system. Family members can cycle through various thoughts about having a person in their family with Down syndrome, which they may view as:
- a blessing
- a curse
- God’s gift to special parents
- something their child might grow out of
- a condition that will barely affect their child
- a normal aspect of human diversity.
Regardless of their backgrounds, most families of a young child with Down syndrome would admit that they have already had to confront profound questions, such as “What will happen to my child after I am gone?”. And research indicates that parents of children with Down syndrome, in addition to their private joys and worries, have often experienced additional quandaries:
- They may already have encountered medical or other professionals who are pessimistic about their child’s potential.
- They may have encountered reactions of pity, or the use of unhelpful language, such as the expression that their child “suffers from” Down syndrome.
- They may have had to defend their decision to pursue or ignore experimental or controversial therapies which promise to lessen the effects of Down syndrome.
Families arrive at the transition into Kindergarten, then, with individual histories and high hopes for their young child with Down syndrome. Respect for their different paths is essential.
There are ways in which families can prepare young children with Down syndrome for their transition to the challenges and routines of Full-Day Kindergarten:
- Be as diligent as possible about toilet training before school starts.
- Send food which your child can eat as independently as possible, in containers that are easily accessible by your child.
- Practice taking outdoor clothes off and on and zipping a backpack.
- Familiarize your child with routines for sitting and listening to a story, walking with a group, and stopping one activity and moving to another.
Advice from One Parent to Another:
“Some Boards and individuals school administration teams are telling parents of Kindergarten-aged children with Down syndrome that their child can only attend school for partial days. If this happens to you, try to stay calm and investigate the reason. Often the best way to deal with situations like this is to understand what is motivating such a drastic move.”