It’s easy to get caught up in the milestone race because it is fun to watch your child grow and as a society we feel a pull to constantly compare our children to the ones next door. When parents, other loved ones, or complete strangers start talking about it though, there is a sort of almost passive aggressive trend to try to one up the other. “Well, shouldn’t they be doing “x” by now?” Or “My little Xavier started doing “x” 3 months ago.” And it gets old. Real, real old.
As a parent it can feel like an attack on you as well as your child. Obviously they are behind because you haven’t adhered to the baby Einstein boot camp or whatever championed program is being discussed. You carry them too much. Kiss them too much. Give them too much sugar, natural or processed. Feed them gluten, dairy, meat, or red fruits. Or not enough of those things. You didn’t eat all organic when you were pregnant. You didn’t nurse them. You nursed them too long. Oh you don’t give your children the gold encrusted vitamins harvested by an Ethiopian child from the black mud of healing? Yea- there’s a lot of advice and a lot of judgement and even the well intended comments can feel like an attack.
But here is the truth: Children with Down Syndrome go through the same stages of development as typical children. The only difference is it can take longer to achieve some of those milestones. Let’s all chill.
I can’t remember the exact conversation James and I had, but we agreed (perhaps silently and telepathically because after more than a decade together that happens) early in to not try to find validation for Henry’s intelligence and development by looking to other children. We are letting him be himself. And finding the line between encouraging him with his progression and pushing him too far is hard to balance. Yes, I worry about burn out and causing escaping behaviors by the repetitive therapy and play. Learning and development should be fun and when it isn’t is when kids derail. Or when mine does anyway. We are all going to get there- to the same preschool, at the same little league, and the same after school enrichments. My sweet one may still be getting the hang of some milestones, but I’m not worried that he won’t ever walk or express himself.
There is a very wide age range that can be seen with hitting typical milestones- for instance, children with Down Syndrome can begin walking from 12 months – 6 years of age. I cannot tell you the typical range for any milestone nor do I want to, but we are proud of our son’s milestones. All we focus on once he has mastered one milestone is what is the next developmental milestone- not a timeline based on his age. Every child has a different journey with their development and will end up at the same finish line.
So I will be polite to inquiring minds, but sometimes I scream internally. We are not stressing over Henry’s development, but we are working hard to ensure he has every opportunity to enhance his development with therapy and work/play at home. Henry began smiling at birth and in response to our faces and voices at 2 months, rolled over at 5 months, began prop sitting at 6 months, sat up completely by himself at 11 months, began trying to feed himself at 11 months, clapped at 12 months, army crawled at 13 months, started signing at 13 months, began drinking from straw cups at 13 months, hands and knees crawled at 18 months, began pulling to stand at 18 months, crawled up stairs at 19 months, walked at 21 months while holding our fingers, and has just started walking with his walker at 27 months. We are so proud of every victory!
One of the most significant challenges for people with Down Syndrome is low muscle tone. Low muscle tone affects speech, gross motor skills, and fine motor skills. Speech, physical, and occupational therapy help. Early intervention for babies with Down syndrome is very important (like Henry’s Bell Center for Early Intervention classes or the state Hand-In-Hand programs) The appropriate physical and speech therapies for the first five years can make a major difference for physical and intellectual development which is why we began when Henry was 2 months old. Though you may not see it, I assure you that hard work in therapy and at home is going into every developmental gain. We celebrate it all!
Every little thing is magic when your sweet one is accomplishing their goals! Development is amazing and beautiful and just because your little one is not on the typical curve doesn’t mean one thing. So take a breath and enjoy every stage your child goes through. Smile and nod to the overly inquisitive or the ones who overstep with the commentary. You and your little one are doing just fine.