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Teach your child with Down syndrome to eat independently

When you have a child with Down syndrome, parents have to prepare them to face the world independently. Today, there are many special educators and therapists who empower and reach out to children with Down syndrome. With the right training and support, they can live independently.

One of the most important skills to teach children eating independently. This is a developmental milestone which involves large and small muscles along with eye-hand coordination. Parents must eat with their kids and help set the ground rules by following the right table manners themselves.

Parvathy Vishwanath, is the founder of Aikya, one of Chennai's oldest schools for children with Down syndrome.

Children with Down syndrome are fast learners. Trying to teach them to eat independently won't be a hard task. Some might take time to chew the food because of slow tongue movements and lack of fine motor skills. Some kids might even need therapies for that. But since kids with Down syndrome have great social skills, they are good in learning table manners, serving food to others and even behaving well at public dinners. Make sure that the family sits together and has a meal. -Parvathy Vishwanath, Founder Aikya

Looking out to teach your child to eat independently? Here are a few tips.

  • Follow step-by-step methods - Children with Down syndrome need time and space to learn so follow a step-by-step pattern. For instance, teach your child to dip their spoon into the food and take it into the mouth. You will have to guide them in this process by helping in the arm and hand process and coordination. They will need practice for a while before they start eating independently with a spoon.
  • Support and encourage - Teaching a child requires a lot of patience. When the child has Down syndrome, parents must ensure that they are the biggest support systems for the child. Support the child and encourage them when they do something correctly. You can even reward them with something that they like when they get things correct. At the same time, parents must also be enthusiastic to teach their child new skills.
  • Sit together with family - It is always best when the family sits together round the table while training the child to eat independently. The child will feel great that he or she has a great support system. Moreover, learning can be made fun when the entire family is together. Every family member can play a crucial role in guiding the child in some way or the other.
  • Let your child explore new foods - Do not stick on to just one particular diet. There are so many foods that can be explored. Ensure that your child experiments with all of them. You can start off by teaching them to handle simple foods. Even if they make mistakes or play with their food, do not stop them. Every child loves playing with food. You can gradually train them to stop it.

"I never used to treat my daughter like she had a disability. I trained her just like how I trained my elder daughter who doesn't have a disability. But yes, I used to make sure that I give her some extra tips and was very patient with her. A child without a disability might take five minutes to finish their food. But a child with Down syndrome might take longer, says Usha Menon, who has a daughter with Down syndrome.

So, be patient and remember to make the entire family a part of the process. Make it fun and interactive. Remember, eating is a joyful exercise and that's the most important takeaway for your child.

ALSO READ: Check out these awesome recreational activities for children with Down syndrome!

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