Continuing our Better Belonging series, this blog post will highlight how we may best create belonging for individuals with Down syndrome. Belonging and inclusion is often interchangeably used, but belonging is a departure from inclusion in that it is an active state of treating others as full-fledged, participating members of a group.
What is Down Syndrome?
According to the NDSS (National Down Syndrome Society), Down syndrome occurs “when an individual has a full or extra copy of chromosome 21. Individuals with Down syndrome typically possess physical traits of low muscle tone, small stature, and upward slant to the eyes.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately one in every 700 babies in the United States is born with Down syndrome. Considering how common Down syndrome is, you most likely know a person who has Down syndrome. How then can we best serve the people with Down syndrome is our communities?
How can we help?
- Social inclusion is at the core of belonging, but it cannot be left up to chance alone! Make active effort and create genuine opportunities for your Friends with Down syndrome to interact with others. As countless studies have shown, the value of inclusion for individuals with Down syndrome simply cannot be understated.
- As people with Down syndrome can fall anywhere on a spectrum, it’s important to understand the specific needs for each unique person. Inclusive education experts have found that communication, literacy and numeracy, thinking, social interaction, and positive behavior are areas individuals with Down syndrome might struggle with. In other words? Play to their strengths, and support them where it’s needed.
- Repetition and novelty. These two things may seem contradictory, but they are important approaches to consider when creating belonging for people with Down syndrome. Repetition is key to their learning, but presenting things in a new way is very engaging. Remembering to incorporate both aspects is crucial.
- With all of these things in mind, engaging all the senses of individuals with Down syndrome is a great way to create belonging. Mary, a Friendship leader from Alberta, recently sent us a powerful story that supports this idea. She writes of an exciting Friendship Group meeting when “a mostly non-verbal Down syndrome friend all of a sudden started singing words, after coming for a year. [Previously,] she would often put her head down on her arms or rock back and forth.” What a gift it is when our Friends with Down syndrome can engage in new ways!
Create belonging for the members of your church. We have engaging multi-sensory Bible studies encompassing ALL kinds of topics for people of ALL abilities. Explore them here.