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"Many children with Down syndrome are actually early readers," says Libby Kumin, a professor of speech pathology at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of Early Communication Skills for Children With Down Syndrome (Woodbine House, 2003). In fact, "reading is easier than speaking" for many kids with DS, she says.
To that end, Kumin recommends reading aloud to grandchildren with DS, and pointing out and identifying objects and events in the environment to help them develop their language and communication skills. Don’t assume that the child notices that the weather is warm and the birds are chirping. Instead, point out those things and strike up conversations about them. When reading aloud to a child, note when and how you are turning the pages, to help teach pre-literacy skills. But keep in mind that children with DS understand a lot more than they say, Kumin says. Introducing sign language as a means to communicate may help open up a new avenue for them to express themselves. This is a listing with Tips for School Success.
Most important, shower the grandchild who has Down syndrome with the same love and attention that you do your other grandchildren. Marlene Lutkenhoff, a clinical manager at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, remembers how her entire family accepted her sister Elaine, who has DS, as they would any other new sibling. "Everywhere that we went, she went with us," Lutkenhoff recalls. "We didn't treat her as special. She was another member of the family." Today, Elaine, 54, lives on her own.
Supporting Your Child
Your child and his or her spouse may go through a grieving period after a diagnosis of DS. Stay positive. Listen to them. And help out. "Everyone is telling the parent that they're sorry," Kumin says. As the child's grandparent, you can clear the negativity from the air with your love. Hold the baby. Play with the baby. Be proud of the baby. “Let the parent know the value of their child and that you value the child," Kumin says. After all, every new grandchild is a cause for joy.
Find Out More
The best online resources on DS include the National Down Syndrome Society, which will help you locate family-support groups in your area so you can connect with other families living with DS; Down Syndrome Health Issues; and the National Down Syndrome Congress, which has a resource guide for parents and grandparents. Some excellent books for families include Kathryn Lynard Soper's Gifts: Mothers Reflect on How Children with Down Syndrome Enrich Their Lives (Woodbine, 2007); Jennifer Graf Groneberg's Road Map to Holland: How I Found My Way Through My Son's First Two Years With Down Syndrome (NAL Trade, 2008); and Susan Skallerup's Babies with Down Syndrome: A New Parents' Guide (Woodbine, 2008). Informative DVDs include Down Syndrome: The First 18 Months (Blueberry Shoes, 2003) and Libby Kumin's' What Did you Say? A Guide to Speech Intelligibility in People with Down Syndrome (Woodbine, 2006).