If you’re caring for a child with Down syndrome, you might face some challenges different to other parents.
How do I care for my baby with Down syndrome?
If you’re told your unborn child has Down syndrome, it’s important to talk with your doctors and midwives. They will help you plan your birth, and also talk about what might happen when your baby is born.
Your baby will need some tests to check their heart function, hearing, vision and overall health. This might mean you and your baby need to stay in hospital a little longer than usual.
Most babies with Down syndrome can breastfeed. Your doctor and midwife will talk to you about anything special you might need to do.
As with any newborn, love and care are the most important requirements, but your baby’s health may need to be monitored closely.
How does Down syndrome affect my child’s growth and development?
Each child with Down syndrome will have a different experience. Some children will require more support than others. As with any child, it is important to provide support from a young age to help them reach their full potential.
Once your child is home, regular check-ups with your family doctor are important. Your doctor will provide you with advice on how to support your child through any medical concerns. They can also refer you to specialists and paediatricians (doctors for children).
- physiotherapy — to help your child gain the muscle tone needed for crawling and walking
- occupational therapy — to help with fine motor skills, co-ordination, and sensory issues
- speech and language therapy — to help develop effective communication skills, and facial muscles for speech, feeding and swallowing
- special education and psychology — to help with social and behavioural challenges
Talk to your child’s therapists. The best results are often achieved when you and your child’s specialists work together.
In addition to professional therapy, there are many ways you can support your child’s development.
Helping your child to communicate will help prepare them for school and other social activities. You can ask your speech therapist about learning key word signs as the use of hand gestures to communicate with your child can help language development.
You can also help your child’s communication skills develop by engaging them through:
- listening, singing and talking
- kissing, cuddling, laughing and playing games that involve touch and movement
- use of exaggerated facial expressions
How do I prepare my child for school if they have Down syndrome?
The transition to education can be difficult for your child. You can help them adjust and prepare for school by:
- visiting the school
- speaking about school openly and positively
- practicing getting them dressed
- encouraging them to carry their own school bag and
- if possible, help them make some friends before their first day
You should speak to the school about how they can best support your child. Local Down syndrome associations can also help educate staff when your child begins schooling.
Experiencing support in a school environment can help your child feel accepted. Growing up around disability support can also help other students to be more inclusive.
What support is available for families living with Down syndrome?
As with all children, raising a child can be very rewarding, but also very challenging. Support is important for the parents and families of a person with Down syndrome. Creating a strong support network of family, friends, community groups and respite care providers is important.
It can help to connect with other families that have a child with Down syndrome. They can be a great source of support. Try Down Syndrome Australia or its local associations. These associations can also provide education services.
Feeling supported and informed will put you in the best position to care for your child.
Parents of children diagnosed with Down syndrome can be eligible for financial assistance This can help you access support networks and early intervention services. These are available through the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Where can I go for more information and advice?
- Down Syndrome Australia
- Down Syndrome Association of ACT
- Down Syndrome NSW
- Down Syndrome Association of the Northern Territory
- Down Syndrome Association of Queensland
- Down Syndrome South Australia
- Down Syndrome Tasmania
- Down Syndrome Victoria
- Down Syndrome West Australia
Explore the Carer Gateway for information on practical, emotional and financial support.
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.