Sunday, July 14, 2013

How to tell older siblings that your baby has Down syndrome

When we found out 22 weeks into our pregnancy that Cade would have Down syndrome, one of our first thoughts was "How do we tell Camille?"  She was 7 years old and very smart.  Certainly, there was no hiding it from her.  She is intuitive and picks up on our emotions pretty easily.  Also, she'd already noticed that we went to the doctor a lot more often.

We wanted to tell her before Cade was born so she wouldn't be afraid or feel left out.  We chose to wait until we were fully okay with the news ourselves.  No sense getting teary eyed and scaring her.  I also bought the book "We'll Paint the Octopus Red " in preparation.  In hindsight, this book was a little young for her.  I think it would be very appropriate for a 4-6 year old.  But it did help us to open the door to communication a bit more easily.

We'd known Cade's diagnosis for about a month.  I brought her home from school, we sat at the table, and I asked her if she'd noticed that we had had a LOT of doctor's appointments lately.  Yes, of course she had.  And we went from there.  I felt my way along through the conversation, letting her be the guide.  I explained that he would learn a bit slower but would probably do everything she and Colby can do.  I told her that our bodies are made of cells, which contain DNA, and that regular DNA has 46 chromosomes, or building blocks.  She seemed to understand.

Camille and I cuddled on the couch as I read the book to her.  She had a couple of simple questions.  Would he always have Down syndrome?  And then, to my delight..."He will be perfect just the way he is and we'll love him just as much."  Oh yes, baby, we sure will.

The next day, I took her with me to an appointment with our genetics counselor.  We showed the counselor our book (she hadn't seen it before) and we talked a bit more about what to expect.  Camille had a few more questions but didn't seem at all intimidated or fearful.

Today, Cade is 3 months old and Camille is the perfect big sister.  She's 8 now and loves Cade to pieces.  She totes him around the house, gets him to giggle, and helps with his therapy.  They're amazing together.

Colby is 3 years old and we've never bothered explaining Down syndrome to him.  His only question, ever, is whether Cade will play cars with him someday.  Yep, I'm pretty sure he will!


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