While it is Down Syndrome Awareness Month I think it is VERY important to educate everyone about having BOTH Down Syndrome and Autism. I knew early on that Boston had other issues going on besides Down Syndrome but to be honest I thought we were just dealing with “preemie” issues. When a kiddo comes 10 weeks early it is common to have some difficulties along the way. Too be honest we still struggle with certain preemie issues! But I want to focus on the signs that a family who has a child with Down Syndrome MIGHT want to consider. I by no means am saying a child HAS Autism if they show some of these signs. Chances are if you are worried – you might already being doing your research and have your suspicions.
Your child with Down syndrome MAY have an autism spectrum disorder if he or she:
• Does not orient to people (for example, often does not respond when you call his/her name)
• Stops using speech, signs, or other means of communication
• Seems happiest playing alone
• Lacks imaginative play, prefers repetitive play with objects
• Shows more interest in objects than people
• Eats only a small selection of foods and resists new foods
• Has unusual responses to pain, sound, light, or touch
• Rarely includes other people in his/her interests
• Rarely shows interest in what other people are doing
• Has great difficulty with transitions
• Works best with established structure and routines
• Has difficulty understanding gestures like pointing
• Doesn’t seem to automatically smile back at you when you smile at him/her
A great resource is The Down Syndrome – Autism Connection. Visiting their site and connecting with their online support group was one of the best things I’ve done for myself as a mother. For the first time I felt like Boston and I had “our people.” We did not really fit in the the Down Syndrome Community and we did not really fit in with the Autism Community but here….. ah, here…we belonged. Here moms were sharing stories JUST LIKE my daily experiences/interactions with Boston. It was like coming home! Don’t get me wrong some of my dearest friends and largest sources of support come from families within the Autism and/or DS community and I am so very grateful for them!!! To be honest ALL special needs families no matter what the diagnosis have helped to form me to be the mom I am, encourage me when I need it, laugh with me during the times where laughter keeps us from drowning in the tears, and they give me strengthen when I need it most.
One thing to keep in mind is that educational research is showing that Autism in Down Syndrome is not like typical autism with findings like:
- Children with both Down Syndrome and ASD showed less impairment on the Communication Domain in imitation, use of gestures and imitative social play than individuals with ASD but not Down Syndrome.
- On the Reciprocal Social Interaction Domain, children with Down Syndrome and ASD showed less impairment in eye gaze, social smiling, shared enjoyment, offering comfort, social overtures and response to other children’s social approaches.
- On the Restricted, Repetitive and Stereotyped Patterns of behavior there was only one difference. The children with Down Syndrome and ASD showed a greater tendency to exhibit compulsions or rituals than the other children with ASD. Otherwise they showed the same behaviors as others with autism.
- When children with Down Syndrome and ASD are compared with children with Down Syndrome who do not have an ASD, the children with Down Syndrome and ASD are likely to be more severely cognitively delayed and to exhibit more behavior difficulties. (information shared from Down Syndrome Education International)
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