You most likely think that with Down syndrome children you must take special precautions when it comes to traveling with them by automobile. The truth is that you do not have to take any special precautions. Down syndrome is really no problem in itself for road trips. They are normal children, each with their own particular characteristics.
Each child is a world unto himself or herself. As regards children with Down syndrome there is a great deal of information available. Indeed, there are several associations, such as Down España, that work hard for all of us to learn a little more about the day-to-day routine of these children and the adults they become.
Nevertheless, there is a certain general lack of knowledge that can make us prey to the odd cliché or make us a little frightened of doing something special with them. The truth is that the barriers for Down syndrome children are much fewer than you might think.
Children with Down syndrome can, moreover, have special needs
Starting from the premise that a child with Down syndrome is a normal child in any day-to-day situation and can do tasks, play and relate to others normally, it is possible that he or she has special needs. In such cases, you would indeed have to be careful with certain details as is only normal. But it must be emphasized that the one does not necessarily lead to the other: there will be children with Down syndrome that have no special needs.
As Agustín Matía says, who is the manager of the Asociación Down España, with respect to special precautions to be taken into account when traveling with Down syndrome children, there “is none that particularly stands out. The limitations of a Down syndrome person are mostly intellectual. Taking the precaution to ensure that the child understands the basic mechanisms of the vehicle (using door and window locks, for example) should suffice”.
A lot of these children are born with heart problems, so you have to provide them with the requisite care in accordance with the needs that arise after the operation. Where appropriate, you may need to make sure the child is traveling correctly and safely in his or her adapted seat. Agustín recommends “considering the actions to be taken in accordance with the child's specific clinical situation, which would be the exception, and not so much the condition of Down syndrome. We consider it a greater risk not to be wearing a seat belt than any problems it might cause the child”.
Accordingly, it is advisable to go back over our article on car seats for children with special needs, where you have all the types of child seats for automobiles designed for children with special needs that we could find, along with some recommendations.
If a child had to have an operation, you must ask the surgeon about using CRS harnesses. Whatever the case, it is particularly advisable to seat children that had an operation in the opposite direction to which the automobile is going to minimize the pressure of the aforementioned harnesses on their chests.
Another possible special need is that a child is born and develops with less muscle tone than normal, or has a weaker neck. In such cases, it is advisable that the child travel to a more advanced age seated in the opposite direction to the one in which the automobile is moving until the child reaches the weight that implies a better developed musculature. In those cases it is a good idea to bear in mind that “you must start from the premise that Down syndrome children will have achieved head control long before the doubt arises for us, even though a little later than people in general. Consequently, it is the children's size and weight that determines when it is time to change, more so than age”, as Matía says.
No matter what, you have to take each case individually. You must act in accordance with the special needs the child in question may have. As stated above, it is quite likely that the child has no special need and, therefore, can travel exactly like any other child would, getting equally bored and requiring the same rest periods.
We must not finish this article without mentioning the case of the school bus, or normal public transportation, because instead of thinking about special actions, “what you need to do is give the same road safety education guidelines and recommendations as are given the rest of people to avoid accidents in general. The tips are the same for all children: seated, with seat belt, etc., making sure that the instructions can be understood by them and confirming that they have indeed understood them”.
We would like to thank the Asociación Down España for their time and attention in discussing such important matters with us.