Down Syndrome: From Early Intervention to Abitur

No Down's syndrome resembles another in its appearance and also not in the impairments associated with it. Thus, not all children with trisomy 21 show an equally severely delayed development or limited learning ability. What they all have in common, however, is that they usually learn more slowly and have difficulties with complex, abstract thought processes. Accordingly, appropriate measures must be chosen to support affected children in a targeted manner.

[A text by Blaue Apotheke, section "Juvalis" - mail-order pharmaceutical company.] The content does not necessarily reflect the opinion of].

Individual (early) intervention

Early support for children with Down's syndrome offers the best possible support for their individual development and thus also a perspective for possible independence. It ensures that the children are able to exploit their individual possibilities and talents despite their usually slower physical, motor, mental and linguistic development. Depending on the personality, preferences and abilities of those affected, early intervention is specifically tailored to each child. The consolidation of already acquired developmental steps and the support of individual, special talents are as important as the acquisition of new abilities. In its design, however, early intervention depends to a large extent on the extent to which the disability is pronounced.

A holistic promotion includes the medical, medical-therapeutic and psychological accompaniment of the children, as well as complementary curative and social aspects. These include speech therapy, which is concerned with promoting speech and language development. In many cases, the use of signs and gestures forms a supporting part of this therapy. The development processes are very different and range from excellent performance to severe learning disabilities due to multiple disabilities. The pace of development is also individually pronounced.

Although people with Down's syndrome or trisomy 21 usually show a slight to moderate loss of intelligence with an IQ between 40 and 70, the range of mental performance is as wide for them as for all other people. However, a distinction must be made between the different forms of trisomy: The relationship between the cells affected by the genetic defect and the healthy cells determines the intellectual developmental prerequisites of the child. While the average intelligence quotient in children with free trisomy 21 is about 50, the average value in children with translocation trisomy 48 or mosaic syndrome is about 70. Thus, some patients with an IQ above 70 are still within the range of the intelligence of people without Down's syndrome.

Everyday school life with Down syndrome

The development of children with Down's syndrome already includes the preparation for school: In playful learning situations, the demands of everyday school life are practiced, the ability to concentrate and motor skills are improved. If all possibilities of early intervention programmes have been exhausted, it is not uncommon for children with Down's syndrome to be able to attend kindergartens and schools dedicated to inclusion.

Children with Down's syndrome are usually regarded as extremely willing to learn and open-minded. Since their social and emotional abilities are generally very well developed, they benefit from social contacts with other children: they find friends, can learn actions from them and at the same time improve their speech and language skills. In this context they also learn an independent and self-confident appearance and improve it continuously.

Not only children with disabilities benefit from inclusion in kindergartens and schools. Learning and playing together also helps to counteract prejudices and fears among classmates - open interaction with people with disabilities is learned at an early age.

Down's Syndrome and high school graduation

A high school graduation already puts some pupils without a handicap to a hard test - but it has been shown that this graduation can also be achieved for people with Down's syndrome! The example of the 20-year-old Silvia from Italy shows that with appropriate support and commitment from the parents and all educators and teachers, a higher school leaving certificate can also be mastered.

Pablo Pineda is a second example that shows that people with Down's syndrome are still underestimated: The Spanish teacher and actor was the first European with Down's syndrome to graduate from university in 2004 - and has enjoyed a certain reputation ever since.

Karen Gaffney proved that the academic career of a person with Down's syndrome doesn't have to end at this point for a long time, nine years after Pineda's university degree: The American has been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Portland since 2013 and has since been allowed to call herself "Dr. h.c. of Humane Letters". With her non-profit organization, the Karen Gaffney Foundation, Gaffney is committed to the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities, drawing attention to the enormous abilities of people with disabilities.

In addition to her social commitment, the American works as a teacher, motivational speaker and has already won two gold medals at the Special Olympics as a passionate swimmer.

Whether high school graduation, university degree or even doctorate - these three examples impressively demonstrate that the development and support opportunities for people with trisomy 21 in our modern society are better than ever before. Their talents only need to be recognised in good time and individually promoted accordingly.

Down Syndrome Plus

But not all children with Down's syndrome are able to cope with everyday school life or even a university degree. The term Down's syndrome plus refers to the impairments of those people with Down's syndrome whose development is delayed or inhibited for various reasons. These include malformations and special diseases (such as heart defects) as well as functional impairments of the ears and eyes or profound developmental disorders.

The latter also include autistic disorders and ADHD (attention deficit disorder). The discovery that severe developmental disorders such as autism or obsessive-compulsive disorder can also occur in people with Down's syndrome is still relatively new in medicine. For this reason there is so far only little literature or studies on this topic. However, experts assume that 5 to 7% of all children, adolescents and adults with Down's syndrome have such a dual diagnosis.

As with Down's syndrome itself, the severity of these developmental disorders varies from child to child. This means that children with such a diagnosis differ greatly from each other: While some cannot speak or need certain routines for their daily lives, such restrictions do not apply to other patients.

In combination with an enormous variability of abilities and character traits, the importance of the individual and continuous development of children with Down's syndrome in order to reach and exploit their maximum potential becomes clear.

Über die Autorin/den Autor
Marcel Saft ist freiberuflicher Dipl.-Technikredakteur (FH).

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