Developmental tools come in a variety of materials, and each can assist in establishing lifelong social, cognitive, mobility, speech and language skills. But, for children with special needs, such as Down syndrome, the tools used will become even more important, because those skills may be more difficult to attain due to learning and / or cognitive development issues. Knowing what tools during the right developmental period will be very important, but also realizing your child's needs will vary dependent upon your child and their level of disability.
Like all children, with or without special needs, each child learners and developers differently, so a guideline is given, but only to give an idea of typical developmental stages. Your child may stay within the guidelines longer or excel beyond them sooner than other children. Your professional team, occupational and speech therapists can help you establish the best tools and practices for the right developmental stages of your child.
From birth through the first year, children's senses are being developed. Initially (0-3 months) hearing and visual stimulation, through soft music, the family's voices, and / or black and white objects are best. The child will seek out the source of sound and movement, helping to build muscle tone in the head, neck, and upper body. For children with Down syndrome, this is extremely important, due to hypotonia (lack of muscle tone) which is characteristic of this genetic disorder.
From 3-7 months, colors will begin to stimulate, and touch, smell and taste will become instrumental, as the child begins to put items in their mouths. Items such as teeth rings will also help in fine motor skills, such as grasping, while activity quilts can help develop vision, auditory, mobility and motor skills, as they listen, look, grab, stretch and reach for items within their range.
Generally, at 8-12 months, hand and eye coordination becomes the next stage, as children begin exploring the world around them. Crawling, shaking toys, sorting shapes, sucking and chewing on everything (make sure everything is baby safe!), Pop up toys, as well as bath toys all became useful tools for building muscle and mobility while initiating interest in the world around them and helping to promote language skills.
Language and social skills begin developing from 6 months to approximately 3 years. Language can become more developed by playing and interacting with other children. Social skills, such as sharing, cooperative, turn taking, and role playing are being introduced. Physical and fine motor skills (playing catch, throwing balls, riding tricycles, running, etc) as well as learning to problem solve and understand the relationship between cause and effect are also being internalized. Blocks, board games, lacing and or sorting toys, math items, such as toy clocks and numbers, music, and puzzles are all excellent tools for this stage in your child's development.
As your child reaches pre-school age, their gross and fine motor skills, self-esteem, listening and social skills, or lack thereof, will become more apparent. Building upon them will be crucial, and encouraging social interaction with board games, puppets, dressing up, etc. can help promote positive interaction, language, social skills and the important self-esteem that is necessary for your child to move smoothly through and into their next stage.
Moving into their elementary and junior high years, the child will find new stimulus through peers and social interaction. Sports, school activities, games (such as UNO or Guess Who) in social settings, and just hanging out with friends will help in establishing the ever increasing need for good social interaction skills. Here it will be important to stress what is and is not appropriate behavior with those around them, especially since children with Down syndrome tend to be extremely affectionate.
All these stages require safety and structure, even into their mid to young adult years. Here, a developing a sense of belonging and membership within their peer group will be strong, so learning self-advocacy will be an important tool. Establishing self-worth and self-esteem will stem from contributing to their friendships, family, and the world around them. Jobs, based upon their skill and interest level will play a key factor in becoming mature. They will begin to seek independence and initiate control over their own lives and begin eliminating their relationships based on emotions and closeness.
Developmental tools, from birth to adult, build upon each other in building lifelong mental, cognitive, physical, language and social skills. Almost everything in a child's world can be used in a positive manner to help your child develop and mature successfully. Understanding their need and meeting them on their level, with patience and love, will create the learning environment needed to make all their life stages of life happy and successful.