Camille and her mom Larina tackle the hidden challenges of socializing with DS
Brian and I live in Davidson, a vibrant college town just north of Charlotte, North Carolina, with our daughters: Camille (who is 14 and has Down syndrome) and Nora (11).
One of Camille’s strengths is her ability to carry on a conversation with ease, which has opened the door for many meaningful relationships in her life. Her speech itself is fluid and mostly intelligible, which I honestly attribute to luck. However, we do have to support her social skills at every turn. In other words, while our young lady has the gift of gab, this doesn’t mean that socializing – literally, interacting with other people – has always been comfortable or obvious to her.
People with Down syndrome are often considered highly sociable. However, Camille's story highlights a very common challenge for our community - developing broader & deeper skills with a wide range of people. Camille's story and many others provide inspiration and sage advice throughout The Essential Guide for Families with Down Syndrome.
To satisfy her need and desire for social interaction, we let Camille use FaceTime to connect with friends and family. She enjoys seeing faces while having a conversation. Summers can be lonely at times because she doesn’t do well at camp – it’s too new and overwhelming. I haven’t found an alternative, even with childcare support, that allows her to socialize adequately in the summer; we just do our best to create a ‘potpourri life’ of her favorite activities, and that gets us all through.
Practicing Social Skills
In Camille’s homeschool co-op, her goals include working on introductions (“Hi, I’m Camille. It’s nice to meet you!”); ordering food at restaurants (by looking at the server instead of mumbling about what she wants to eat); greeting people and saying “goodbye” or “have a nice day” at the appropriate times (instead of skipping over simple politeness!); and using check-in questions such as “How was school, Nora?” or “Mom, did you have a good time with your friends?” which not only show good manners but also paves the way for actual conversations. In giving her the language tools, we are also building her confidence: each time she has a successful interaction with someone, it makes it a little easier the next time.
We practice social skills because we have to. Camille is very friendly and enjoys interacting with people she knows but the game totally changes when she has to interact with strangers (which is part of life whether we like it or not). Despite her comfort with conversation, we rarely have a concern about her safety. Honestly, I don’t really have her out of my sight and when she is, she’s with someone I trust implicitly.
Camille has friends across the lifespan. Same-age peers are the hardest match because, developmentally, Camille does not track at the biological age of her peers. Young children and older teens do very well with her; middle schoolers (where we are now) can be a little tricky. Those who don’t pay much attention to the Down syndrome piece and who just go straight to enjoying her company create the best relationships; thankfully, there are many of these folks in her life.
Our top relationship challenge right now is that Camille would love to have more friends her age. If anything makes me sad as a parent in this season, it’s that this doesn’t happen organically. I try to focus my energy on the people in her life who love her and “get” her, inviting them into our home and her world as often as possible to foster her sense of belonging and connectedness. As for same-age peers, friendships just can’t be forced. At most, I might ask a willing parent to support their child’s involvement in Camille’s life, but I haven’t found the ultimate solution. Many of my friends in the Down syndrome community seem to be in the same boat as their teenagers. Camille is a wonderful friend – she cares about what you care about and remembers what matters to you. Hopefully, in time, she will add more friends in her age group.
Somewhat ironically, Camille struggles with individuals in the disability community. She is more at ease with people without speech or behavioral challenges. I was not expecting this, but it does make sense now that I know her. Camille needs people who can handle her, who can initiate conversations and activities, and who can sustain the relationship regardless of what she’s doing. She is very dear to so many people and despite everything that feels hard about raising her, she is the center of my heart, and we appreciate all that she brings to this world.
Larina, Camille’s mom
I'm thrilled to announce The Essential Guide was honored with the Gold Award by the Nonfiction Authors Association!
The Essential Guide provides step-by-step support to:
Inspire mindset shifts toward one of independence and possibilities
Foster independence building blocks from the earliest age
Highlight health risks and financial resources every family must know
Detail education and work options to promote community inclusion
Evaluate family- and community-based home options including the search process
The Guide presents action items and worksheets to equip you with a clear timeline and path. The resources and references sections will save you time and money in your search for information and organizations that support your family’s journey.
“As parents, we are the experts of our loved ones, and this is an excellent resource in navigating our own decisions to better support the goals and dreams of those we love.” Tara Goodwin, D.O., Adult Down Syndrome Clinic, QuestCare Dallas
Friedman intersperses relatable and inspiring stories from a wide array of families. Insights from many experts in the fields of communications, education, health, and financial planning provide the confidence and guidance for you to navigate your family’s path toward independence.
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