Thursday, August 7, 2008

Homeschooling a Downs Syndrome Child

Beginning when they are young

I want to share a bit of what I have done as I have begun the journey of homeschooling my daughter with Downs Syndrome. I am writing this from my perspective which includes who I am, who my daughter is and our family. Each of us have different circumstances and so we will need to adjust for those circumstances. Miss K was our first child, my personality is to dig in and research something, and we are living overseas.

Some know prior to birth if the baby has Downs Syndrome which will give time to adjust and prepare. We did know until Miss K was born that she had Downs Syndrome. Soon after she was born I began the task of learning and researching. Babies with Downs Syndrome edited by Karen Stray-Gundersen is a good starting place.

The first thing to address is any physical issues. Miss K needed two surgeries. At 72 hours she had surgery to correct the duodenal artesia. Then at 2 weeks of age she had heart surgery.She came home from the hospital at 26 days. Thankfully, at that time she no longer needed further surgeries, observations, medications, no feeding tubes or anything else. I know that is not the case for all Downs Syndrome children so those things could impact what can be done.

After medical, the next decision is what services are available and how are you going to utilize them if at all. For us we did not have the option of a “Birth-3” program. We did have a physical therapist that met with us when Miss K was a month old and then would give us goals and when we accomplished those goals we would go back for a follow-up visit. This particular therapist pushed Miss K. She felt that Miss K could do things and so she pushed. She did not allow me to celebrate an accomplishment for long but pushed us to the next milestone. The physical therapy was something that we did at home with her.

Another consideration is the things that she surround the child with. When I was in graduate school I read Jim Trelease’s book The Read Aloud Handbook. When we learned that Miss K had Downs Syndrome, I remembered a example of the power of read alouds from that book, a girl who was considered beyond learning but whose parents read to her everyday and she did learn and was able to tell her which were her favorite books. That inspired us and so even before Miss K was moved out of her incubator to a bassinet we were reading to her. Those days when we could not hold her, we could read to her. We surrounded her with books.

We found toys that had value at least in our eyes. One that we felt did add value was a kick and play piano that we tied to the end of her bed. It did encourage her to kick and we wanted to get and keep her moving. We hung all kinds of things from the mobile to encourage her to bat at things. We did experiment and found a few that were duds for various reasons.

So for us the first months were spend beginning to physical therapy, encouraging her towards the milestones, beginning to learn what it meant to have a child with Downs Syndrome, reading to her and loving her.

That was the beginning of our homeschool journey.

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