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An overview of the development of infants with Down syndrome (0-5 years)

Sue Buckley and Ben Sacks

This module provides an overview of the development of babies and infants with Down syndrome from birth to five years. It describes the uneven profile of expected development, identifying strengths in social understanding, self-help skills and behaviour, and weaknesses in motor development and speech and language skills, the latter influenced by the high incidence of hearing loss, poor auditory processing and auditory memory skills. Visual processing and visual memory skills are a strength and can be used by parents and therapists to support children's learning. By 5 years of age, many children with Down syndrome can achieve some of the same developmental targets as their peers, if this is expected of them. Most will be walking, toilet trained and able to feed themselves and dress with minimal help. Most will be able to fit into the expectations of the mainstream classroom, regulate their own behaviour and behave in a socially acceptable way. Most children will have significantly delayed spoken language. They will understand more than they can say, and their spoken language will not be clear. Many will have some of the basic concepts and knowledge for learning number, maths and reading. These achievements are possible, provided that parents have high expectations for social development and good behaviour from the first year of life, and that services offer targeted support for motor development and speech and language development. Like all children, progress for children with Down syndrome is influenced by family life and parents' child rearing skills, inclusion with peers at home and in preschool, and the quality of education available. It is also influenced by biological make-up, and some children with Down syndrome are born with more biological disadvantages than others. The first priority for parents is to maintain normal family life. The most powerful influence on the progress of a baby with Down syndrome is to be loved, wanted and absorbed into the everyday life of the family and of the community. Specific teaching and therapies will definitely help, but must be kept in perspective and not allowed to create stress and anxiety for families.

Buckley SJ, Sacks B. An overview of the development of infants with Down syndrome (0-5 years). Down Syndrome Issues and Information. 2001.


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