Port Elizabeth early childhood development organisation Early Inspiration is hosting a community picnic for parents, families and children to celebrate and create awareness for World Down Syndrome Day on Tuesday, March 21.
The group plans to start the day with a short awareness walk at 10am from the Hobie Beach Pier to Happy Valley, and then to hold a picnic in the park.
“The biggest challenge for the children in Nelson Mandela Bay with Down Syndrome isn’t their medical care, but the support for early childhood development, and special needs schooling,” Port Elizabeth Down Syndrome Association (Pedsa) chairwoman and head of Pathcare’s Cytogenetics Unit, Carol Massyn said.
In Nelson Mandela Bay, this unit diagnoses about three children a month with Down Syndrome, with the annual incidence of diagnosed children having ranged from 25 to 35 children, over the past five years, Massyn said.
Early Inspiration founder Dr Lauren Stretch said: “Children with Down Syndrome learn and progress differently, however, it is important that we understand that not all areas of development are equally affected.
“Knowing each child, their needs and brain processes is fundamental.
“By understanding how development and learning differs for children with Down Syndrome you can create more effective teaching approaches and therapies,” Dr Stretch said.
Providing support for parents is crucial for building resilience and enhancing self-confidence as children with disabilities are often misunderstood by parents, teachers and communities.
Sindiswa Mtsila, a parent from Walmer, who took part in last year’s programme, speaks from experience.
“When my child was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, I didn’t have a good understanding of what it meant, but this programme opened my eyes to see my child in a new way,” Mtsila said.
Visiwe Lydia Mandeka, another mother of a Down Syndrome child from Walmer, said: “I learned that all children are different and that as parents we should love our children no matter what.”
Massyn said she was delighted the Early Inspiration support programme would continue for a second year.
Funded this year by the Jim Joel Fund, the Early Inspiration Down Syndrome Support Programme brings together parents of children with Down Syndrome to provide support and offer advice to enhance their child’s development, and create a network of assistance and understanding.
The programme focuses on a holistic approach and enables and equips parents with practical strategies and ways to understand their children, while also helping the child to understand themselves, their needs, strengths and challenges.
The programme comprises of eight sessions and includes weekly contact, at-home visits, innovative in-home implementation strategies and community-based parental support.
“A multidisciplinary team assisted in the material for the programme including experts from education, psychology, social work, dietetics and sports science fields,” Dr Stretch said.
Topics covered include basic communication, understanding children and their health, hygiene and nutritional needs, as well as effective discipline strategies for special needs children.
More information on the picnic call 064-056-0939.