Guest Blog: Down Syndrome: Behavioral Problems?

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All material Copyright © May 2010 The Down Syndrome Centre.  Reprinted with the  express permission of the The Down Syndrome Centre as originally published on their website.

By: Natan Gendelman

Simon, a two year old child with Down syndrome whom I was working with, sat down on the floor, but then decided to throw himself backwards. I prevented him from hitting himself, but I did allow him to lie down on the floor. Once he lay down on his back, he started to scream and cry. He looked at his parents, waiting for them to come and pick him up. I asked him what had happened, and explained that no one was going to help him; he would have to get up and walk on his own. He can walk; he knows how to get up. Therefore, there was no reason for him to look for help. At the beginning, Simon did not listen to me. However, after he saw that no one would pick him up, he calmed down, listened, and we were able to continue with our session. As a result, we experienced these incidents less and less frequently. After following the same philosophy at home, his parents reported close to none of his previous behaviour, which had involved screaming and yelling while throwing himself on the floor.

For any child, discipline and learning play an integral role in his or her growth and development. Whether at school or home, each child is taught basic things such as to be polite, respectful and kind. Unfortunately a lot of times when a child has Down syndrome, we seem to forget these rules and automatically excuse a child for his or her behaviour.

Often, a diagnosis of Down syndrome becomes a kind of label accompanied by a prediction of everything from behaviour up to intelligence. When parents are told of their child’s condition, from that moment onwards the child lives under the umbrella of the word “disabled” and all that this term entails. As a result, behaviour such as punching, screaming and kicking may be seen as something that cannot be changed, when that is not the case.

With every child being different, you cannot make assumptions about what he or she can or cannot do. Every child comes equipped with his own personality, experience moulded by his or her differing culture and home environment. When I approach a child, I don’t presume how he will act. Instead, all I see is a regular child; a child that, for some reason, happens to have a syndrome. With this in mind, I educate him in how to function independently–a very broad term, which includes communication (i.e. the ability to listen, understand and communicate), as well as how to respect himself and others. I listen to the child, and try to understand him. This is not a dictate, but a demonstration of two-way communication. If the child cries: why are you crying? Speak–I am here to listen, and to understand. Crying does not help, but explanation does.

Teaching is a process, and it doesn’t always go smoothly. Be calm, and remember: if you make a mistake, there is nothing wrong with asking your child for forgiveness. Similarly, if he does something that makes you angry or upset, tell him the reason why. He will understand. Often a child won’t do something, not because he does not want to, but because he just either does not understand or does not know how to do a certain task or function. In this case, explain, demonstrate and do this task together with your child. Be patient! Repeat it again in a different situation. Then repeat it again, again, and again. Eventually, it will become an easy task.

It is an official statement that Down syndrome affects a child’s ability to learn in various ways, but most have mild to moderate intellectual impairment. However, I believe that it is a child’s support system that will really determine what he or she may be able to achieve. Perhaps a child may need further explanation and elaboration to be able to do something, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It is up to you to guide your child, and to show him or her how beautiful the world is, or how ugly its face can be. There are many cases where people with Down syndrome go on to university, participate actively in their communities, and succeed in making a difference. For your child, love, patience and respect will definitely go a long way.

So, try to communicate with your child. Ask questions, and don’t assume everything based on medical advice or your own opinion. Remember, discipline is not about restricting your child, but being there to assist and guide him in every aspect of his life.

To see some footage of an Irish little boy who visited Natan’s clinic in Canada click on the video below. And to see more of Tadgh’s wonderful progress see the following videos on You Tube at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGPambgnDnQ

Featured Organization and Author: The Down Syndrome Centre and Natan Gendelman

We thank the Down Syndrome Centre for allowing us to reprint their copyrighted article. For more information about this organization please visit The Down Syndrome Centre

Natan Gendelman is licensed as a physical therapist in Russia and Israel. After moving to Canada, he was certified as a kinesiologist and osteopathy manual practitioner. He graduated from the Canadian College of Osteopathy in 2006. Originally from the former Soviet Union, Natan has more than 20 years of experience providing rehabilitation and treatment for conditions such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, pediatric stroke, childhood brain injury and autism. He is the founder and director of Health in Motion Rehabilitation, whose main objective is to teach their patients the independence necessary for success in their daily lives. Having started an innovative child treatment program called LIFE (Learning Independent Functions for Everyday), Natan looks to address current problems with dependency and demonstrate how everyone has the ability to strive for improvement, independence and success.

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