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Socialization Concerns in Down Syndrome

A comprehensive social assessment should be incorporated into well-child visits of children with Down syndrome - as well as some other types of developmental disabilities. Problems with socialization are frequently identified which may be amenable to timely intervention.

Children with Down syndrome often experience complex challenges within the social setting. It is vital that young children with Down syndrome receive early and appropriate social support in order to achieve optimum development in this area. Children with Down syndrome often demonstrate differences in cognitive ability, expressive language/speech, physical appearance, coordination, and/or emotional maturity; this can result in alienation by their peers. Children with Down syndrome display a wide range of cognitive abilities. Although children with Down syndrome may remain developmentally delayed when compared with "typical" peers, they are capable of learning appropriate behavior at their own pace. Educational mainstreaming in recent years has provided more peer group socialization for children with Down syndrome than was ever possible before the advent of inclusive legislation (IDEA). School provides an important arena for acquisition of social intelligence for all children - particularly those with developmental disabilities. Children with developmental disabilities often have not been afforded the same opportunities for peer exposure, such as play groups and preschool, as their non-disabled counterparts - for a variety of reasons.

Behavioral modeling and intervention is an imperative task for families of children with Down syndrome. Research suggests that encouraging children to develop self-regulatory, internally-based behavioral mechanisms is more effective long term than constantly providing external direction. Children who have never been taught to monitor, choose, or adapt their own behavior are ill-equipped for life outside the home environment (see the information on Self-Determination in this module). Parental expectations of children/adolescents with Down syndrome are often reflected in the self-concept of the individual. Depending on the person's specific developmental level, utilization of extrinsic motivators (such as rewards) should be used judiciously in order to promote intrinsic motivation whenever possible.

Communication skills are often a huge barrier to the development of age-appropriate social skills in children/adolescents with Down syndrome. Healthcare professionals should be aware of communication issues in developmental disabilities and of professional intervention available for referral when indicated.

Cuskelly, M. and Gunn, P. (1997). Behavior Concerns. In S.M. Pueschel & M. Sustrova, (Eds.), Adolescents with Down syndrome: Toward a more fulfilling life (pp. 111-125). Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing

Rynders, J.E., and Low, M.L. (2004). "Adrift" in the educational mainstream: The need to structure communicative interactions between students with Down syndrome and their non-disabled peers. Retrieved online 8/26/04 from: Down Syndrome Quarterly, (pp5-6). http://www.denison.edu/collaborations/dsq/rynderslow.html