Love and Empowerment: PART 1

How to Empower your Child with Down syndrome While Maintaining your Guiding Role

  • By Kim Torres
    Down Syndrome Association Houston
    • Posted in

April 24, 2020

Independence is a skill that must be taught. Often times though, children with Down syndrome are not given the opportunity to learn this skills as the adults in their lives find it easier to be independent for them. As the mother of a child with Ds myself, I am guilty of this regularly. It is often faster and easier to complete things for my son that it is wait for him to figure them out on his own. This however, creates more work for me long-term as independence, or having autonomy/self-governance over one’s life, is never achieved.

So how do we teach independence? In this article we will discuss how to teach two components of independence: choice making and problem-solving.

Choice making is defined as appropriately choosing between a finite number of choices. Research shows that teaching this skill is of high importance to educators as it allows individuals with Down syndrome to access educational content easier. To teach choice making we must first offer choices. Start with two choices and focus on simply, daily tasks. Ask, “Would you like to wear the red shirt or blue shirt today?” Or provide an opportunity for meal input by asking, “I am making sandwiches for lunch. Would you like peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese?” Providing visuals for these choices can help individuals with Ds make a choice. These visuals need not be fancy. Simply stick figure drawing work. Or as your child gets better at choice making, simply labeling your right hand as one option and your left hand as another works great. As choice making skills improve, visual support needs may disappear and the ability to choice between more than two options will increase.

It is important, regardless of your child’s age, to also teach consequences. Every choice we make as humans creates a consequence. We need to make sure that we articulate these to our children with Ds until they are able to connect their choices to outcomes on their own.

Last, choice making is not an option when safety is a factor. Be very explicit with your child and firmly state that, “You do not have a choice now. Your safety is at risk. You will ______ right now.”

Problem-solving is defined as weighing the pros and cons of a potential action. Parents of kids with special needs have a tendency to solve problems for their children because it is faster. This is not conducive to long-term independence.

To teach problem-solving skills, we first need to give our children with Ds the time to solve a problem. To do this we begin with controlled problem-solving opportunities. For instance, when you sit down for homework purposefully forget to bring a pencil. Then prompt your child to figure out what is missing and what should be done to get a pencil. This encourages your child to solve the problem instead of relying on an adult to magically make a pencil appear.

Next, move towards working through real problems. Recently, we did this at our house by allowing our son whole minutes to figure out how to get the can opener on the can. I must admit, it was a LONG wait for me, but in the end it was worth it. Dinner took longer to cook, but my son opened the can by himself. Over time, this will actually save us time as Hayden will be a more independent cook, relying less on me as he ages.

For more information on choice making and problem solving, watch our video presentation of this same topic on YouTube at DSAH. Additionally, join us next week on this blog as we discuss decision making, goal setting, and self-awareness.