Puberty and Down Syndrome
Girls and boys with Down syndrome will experience the changes associated with puberty at the same time and in the same order as other young people. Adolescents with Down syndrome are typically less emotionally mature than other young people their age. Typically, this means that they will find the changes of puberty more difficult to understand and cope with. Just as in average children who are approaching puberty, it is important for parent and caregivers with children with Down syndrome to teach the child what to expect in puberty before it begins to happen. Knowledge will help the young person come to terms with their changing body and emotions. It is important when talking to children with Down syndrome about puberty that the caregiver uses visual aids, books, and videos to help assist in the process and to help the young person to better understand what is happening to his or her body.
During puberty, hygiene is extremely important for all young people. However, it is harder for the young people with Down syndrome to master the all of the details of washing, using deodorant, taking care of their hair, and taking care of their skin. It is important for them to be as independent as possible with this area. It is feasible to teach the young person not only what the various aspects of hygiene are but also how to carry out each task relating to good hygiene.
Another issue of puberty in Down syndrome is that while all the other young people entering puberty are taking their growth spurts and slimming down, it is very common for young people with Down syndrome to gain weight. It is important to teach the Down's young people about a balanced diet and eating healthy. This is a perfect time to encourage structured exercise, as well since once they enter puberty most young people no longer engage in free play.
To make the transition through puberty easier for all involved it is important for the parents or caregivers to talk to their child. It will be necessary to talk to them over and over and in places that are quiet and free of distractions. Take advantage of teaching moments and when topics come up take the chance to talk to the child about it. Since Down syndrome children can be indiscriminate, regarding the people they talk to it is important to share with other family members and close friends the nature of your conversations since the child may ask them questions as well. It is best if all adults can be on the same page and us the same type of language and terms when having these discussions with the young person with Down syndrome.
Puberty is the most important time to help the young person develop good self-esteem. Young people with Down syndrome have a tendency to suffer from low self-esteem. It is important to take every opportunity to tell the child that he or she is a great kid. Take the time to list the young person's positive attributes. Since appearance can be so important during puberty, it can be helpful to teach the young person how to choose clothing and how to style his or her hair properly, then praise them, and encourage them when they do these things themselves. Independence is the quest of all young people in puberty whether they have Down syndrome or not. It is important to allow for them to experience independence and to encourage them anytime the experience successes.