We first dipped our toes into the world of TickiT Education on the recommendation of an Occupational Therapist. After 12 years of working in care – 8 of those years spent caring for children with complex needs, I gave birth to my 3rd daughter, who is blessed with an extra chromosome.
We found out Etta had Down syndrome during pregnancy, so we had time to research into Down syndrome to gain further understanding on how we could give Etta the best start we possibly could.
The first few months of Etta’s life were overshadowed by her medical needs, but she received the most important thing in any baby’s life – tonnes of love. We also began some very simple sensory play with ribbons, scarves and a foil blanket.
Etta was 6 months old when we first met with her Occupational Therapist. She was not yet sitting and was struggling to play and explore as her hands were so tiny. Low muscle tone meant she could not hold objects for very long.
The Occupational Therapist explained how babies neural pathways are not fully developed at birth, so repeating activities over and over again helps to develop lots of links in the brain, which eventually form the neural pathways. Birth to around two years old is called the Sensorimotor Stage.
During this stage of development, children learn about the world around them through their senses and manipulation of objects. This is why sensory play is so important. Motor skills develop at a slower rate for children with Down syndrome, this can impact an infants opportunities for exploring and learning about the world around them.
Etta’s Occupational Therapist recommended TickiT Rainbow Wooden Nuts and Bolts as they are perfect during this stage. The Nuts and Bolts are easy to manipulate, great for colour matching and shape sorting activities. We have used them time and time again to help connect those neural pathways and develop fine motor skills. Etta was able to hold them with ease and eventually learned to hold with one hand while twisting with the other – a fantastic developmental milestone!
Low muscle tone has played a big part in Etta’s development journey. Etta didn’t sit unaided until she was around a year old. She has regular Physio Therapy to build up her muscle strength. Using the TickiT Easy Hold Mirror during tummy time has been a godsend. Etta loves to look at herself and the Easy Hold Mirror is a firm favourite. We also use TickiT Sensory Reflective Sound Balls and Sensory Reflective Colour Burst Balls during Physio Therapy as these encourage her to move.
Research suggests people with Down syndrome learn better with visual supports. Learning will be more effective when information is presented alongside pictures, gestures and objects. Children with Down syndrome also show delays in learning to use spoken language, although there does not seem to be a delay in their understanding of spoken language. With this in mind we have been using a mixture of Makaton and visual aids while talking or singing to Etta. We are hoping this will bridge the gap and enable Etta to communicate. A lovely charity called Positive About Down Syndrome https://positiveaboutdownsyndrome.co.uk run subsidised Makaton courses for families of children with Down syndrome, amongst lots of other valued support. We use the TickiT Wooden Farm Blocks as a visual aid for learning animals. When singing or speaking and animal such as ‘pig’ we sign it and give Etta the pig block, so she can throw it across the room in true toddler fashion! These have been a fantastic visual aid for nursery rhymes, stories and imaginative play, I particularly like the fact they look like real animals.
The TickiT Rainbow Wooden Stars are another product that we use as a visual aid regularly. Mainly for ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ but they have made the odd guest appearance in ‘Old MacDonald’ too! “with a twinkle twinkle here and a twinkle twinkle there…”
When we found out Etta had Down syndrome we were worried what the future would hold for her, and for us. However with so much information and support on hand, fantastic safe learning aides and play ideas from companies such as TickiT Education and the most inspiring, happy little girl in our arms, those early worries have completely vanished. We would not change a single thing about Etta, she has taught us so much and now we are all learning through play.
Written by Rachel Giegbefumwen. Mum to 3 girls and Support Worker in Paediatric Pallative Care.
Facts about Down syndrome from https://down-syndrome.org.uk.
For inspiring play ideas and information about Down Syndrome follow Rachel and Etta here.