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Talking to young children about Downs Syndrome

(11 Posts)
Pavlovthecat Wed 03-Oct-12 20:04:32

My DD is 6. There is a girl in her class who has Downs Syndrome. My DD has always loved being around her and often plays with her at break time, sits with her at lunch time and this girl often picks DD to do an activity with her when she is having time away from the class room or from assembly (she goes to some assemblies, some she does it, it seems). My DD talks about her a lot, like her other close friends, this girl came to her birthday party and she is a well loved by her class. DD has never spoken about her friend's difference, and so I have never raised it, although we talk about things like how she helps her friend get a book as she needs someone to hold her hand, or how she helps her know what the teacher has said because she can't hear so well, about how xx has taken a day off as she has a hospital appt, this has been conversations about her day, and about her friends and DD has never asked any questions about it all, takes it in her stride.

Today, DD cut her finger, and as I was putting a plaster on it she said 'xx sometimes has plasters on her hands, she sometimes cuts herself i guess' and then went on to say while still observing her plastered finger 'mummy?' <yes sweety?> 'why is xx different, you know, different to other children <well, all children are different to each other> "yes, but well, she is more different"

So, I explained that xx was born that way, she was born with a condition which means that sometimes she gets poorly more than other children, and means that she can't hear so well, and can't speak as well as other children. It makes it harder for her to be able to play the same way sometimes which is why she needs your help sometimes' 'how do you know that though mummy?' And this is where I stumbled. I said 'same way as you do!' but felt this was a bit lame. She seemed satisfied with this and finished the conversation by saying 'i love xx she is so lovely> and off she went to show DS her cut finger.

So, what I want to know is, firstly, could I have handled this better and secondly, I guess this is specifically for those parents with children who have downs syndrome - is it ok to say she has a condition called downs syndrome, or is that dependent on the parents own opinion? is there a consensus? It is not that I am afraid to say the words, but, well, I am afraid to offend her friend and her friend's parents who I know a little but not really well. I am also conscious of the fact that DD takes the differences of her and others so in her stride I feel a little cautious about applying labels to it, she is how she is and DD accepts her as her friend, so I think why does she need a label? But, if it is better to explain what Downs syndrome means in a bit more detail, I will happily do so.

<and breathe!> Sorry that was long, if you get to the end, let alone be able to post after that, well done!

MoelFammau Thu 04-Oct-12 00:19:38

Can't say much here except that your DD sounds lovely!

UniS Thu 04-Oct-12 20:29:52

Had a similar conversation with DC , but about an adult we know who has downs. DC just about "gets" that X finds it hard to learn new things and hard to remember who people are which is why X always says the same things when we meet them. I have also had to try and explain to X that DC is now a big boy who finds hugs embarrassing...

The local kids library does have a couple of books that feature children with Downs Syndrome, We have borrowed the picture book in the past. Its not a book that makes a fuss, just a little girl doing little girl things who happens to Have DS. Will probably borrow something like in the next year now DC can read .

WipsGlitter Thu 04-Oct-12 20:36:25

My DS2 has downs syndrome. I think you could say that it is downs syndrome. My DS1 is only 4.5 I've told him his brother had downs syndrome and it makes it harder for him to do things, like hes not walking yet. and that sometimes people can treat you differently if you have downs.

Shallishanti Thu 04-Oct-12 20:47:52

I think you explained it well. It's true to say that you know how this little girl is from observing/knowing her, just as your dd has. Because knowing that someone has DS only tells you a little bit about some aspects of them, and the impact can have a whole range of effects. So you both know, from experience, that she has hospital appts, hearing problems etc. And (IMO) that's what your dd needs to know, as it is relevant to their friendship....if she was a bit older, maybe I'd go a bit further and explain a bit more about DS but I think you got it just right.
And your dd sounds lovely, you should be proud.

Gingersnap88 Thu 04-Oct-12 21:36:21

You and your DD sound lovely! grin

My sister has Downs and has a couple of great friends from school who are wonderful with her. I'd say explain to her that she has Downs, that there's a spectrum etc (some people more affected than others) and that it takes longer to learn / do stuff etc. This is pretty much what we explained to my sister when she first asked when she was little (she thinks it's cool to have an extra chromosome and so do we)! It's her super power wink

Your post has made my day.

Sirzy Thu 04-Oct-12 21:41:45

Do you know her parents at all? If so then you could always discuss it with them and you may find they are willing to answer your daughters questions. People are normally very accepting of childrens natural curiosity.

My best friend at primary school had cerebal palsy and between my parents and hers questions were always answered until it got to the point where there were no questions she was just my friend (if that makes sense)

saintlyjimjams Thu 04-Oct-12 21:44:19

DS3 has a little girl with learning disabilities in his class. He just says she has to work harder to do things.

He has a severely autistic brother though so it's not unusual really.

Last year his best friend had fairly obvious ASD (he's since moved) and he didn't notice so I didn't say anything.

Pavlovthecat Fri 05-Oct-12 10:45:49

Thanks for everyone's replies. I am very proud of her actually, she is a very caring, empathic girl who takes most things she sees and most people meets in her stride. She likes who she likes and that it how it is. I think that is the part of me that does not want to make a big deal about this little girl having downs syndrome, because it makes very little difference to DD's friendship with her and I don't want it to be highlighted as something to become a focus, or an issue in some way. But, in the same way, I want to be able to talk about the questions she has honestly and part of that is when she asks why her friend is different in some ways I want to be able to explain it correctly. Because I expect as they go through the years together she will have more questions.

I only know her parents to say hi to and shoot the breeze with waiting outside the school gates, rather than in any great depth, and I know her dad from the birthday parties that we go to as often both are children are invited to the same ones, and he tends to the birthday parties. But they are both friendly and approachable. I was going to mention about how much DD likes their DD when I next speak to them as she has been playing quite a big role in their DDs life at school recently, might approach it that way and see how the conversation goes, don't just want to steam in there with my questions!

Pavlovthecat Fri 05-Oct-12 10:49:34

Shalli yes, that is true about what we observe. DD also mentions though, as well as the difficulties that her friend faces with downs syndrome, the things she loves about her. She is funny, laughs a lot, is very huggy and likes to hold hands with DD. She is quite tactile with DD, likes to touch her hair, and have physical contact and I think DD likes this because she is likes doing those things, loves showing how she feels about people through hugging and hand holding and actually saying so, which her friend does.

seeker Fri 05-Oct-12 10:53:49

I've always said to mine that some people have brains and bodies that work differently to theirs, and sometimes that means that they find some things more difficult. This seems to work. I also try to give whatever it is a name if I can, and if I am sure about whatever the name is.

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