Sunday, April 27, 2008

How Old Are You

It's such a normal thing to ask someone's age, especially when they're obviously young enough to be proud to announce it to anyone who asks. Most children can tell you how old they are by their second birthday. Children with Down Syndrome tend to look a good bit younger than their age until they reach their thirties or forties. Most, though not absolutely all, are a bit short, and when they're little, their gross motor skills are generally delayed along with cognitive and language and social skills. Walker and his younger sister are twenty months apart, and until he was about seven and she about five, they looked like twins. I even dressed them in matching outfits when they were little.

The most useful things I learned in Early Intervention Classes was how to determine a child's developmental age based on some pretty basic criteria. The reason for this is that a little nudging toward the next task sometimes helps babies with Down Syndrome to advance a bit faster. Walker was lucky enough to have two older sisters and one younger, so we had a living child development laboratory. The toys for the next level were already in the playroom, he just decided when he was interested in them. He had a constant playmate who even shared his room. He learned to climb out of his crib to get into hers quickly after she moved in. The big girls taught him to walk by standing him up against a wall and tempting him with Cheerios and other treats. Everyone wanted to be the one that taught him their name first.

As Walker grew older, because he was small, he was often mistaken for a younger child. I sometimes wonder whether I dressed him like a younger child on purpose, so that his appearance was more congruent with his development. He was still wearing the little suits with shorts that buttoned at the waist when he was five years old and began Madonna Day School. Sister Mary Mark did not wait long before letting me know that he needed to have a uniform like the other children. Finding long navy pants and white shirts in a 2T was no easy feat, but I finally gave into the big boy look.

Just recently, my grandaughter asked me how old Walker is, and when I told her thirty-two (I got it right that time!) she began to ask me why he still lives at home and why he doesn't drive a car. It was a golden opportunity to explain Walker to her.

For management purposes, I still like to know how old Walker is. Not in years, but in his interests and needs. I don't run developmental screenings on him anymore. There are some pretty easy ways to get an idea of where he is.

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