Award-Winning Behavioral Expert Shares Key Advice

Dennis McGuire, Ph.D., two-time recipient of Global’s Award of Excellence—in Medical Outreach and Psychology—and co-author of Mental Wellness in Adults with Down Syndrome and The Guide to Good Health for Teens and Adults with Down Syndrome, shares three important takeaways regarding behavioral health in people with Down syndrome:

Social Sensitivity

People with Down syndrome are very friendly, social beings, and they are very intuitive and sensitive and responsive to people in their lives. The only problem is that they may be a little too sensitive at times, and they may be affected in certain environments where there is stress or conflict, even if that stress or conflict is not directly aimed at them. They have some difficulty because they cannot always block negative feelings and emotions and therefore they can be affected by this. So if you see a change, it would be helpful to begin to look in the different environments your son or daughter lives in to see if there are these kind of stressors to see if they could be affected by those.

“The Groove”

Grooves are set patterns and routines that people with Down syndrome tend to follow. Grooves are very helpful in allowing them to organize and manage their lives, but they can also use grooves as a means to express stress. If individuals with Down syndrome are in certain places or situations, or even have health issues, their set routines or patterns may get too stuck and rigid, and begin to interfere in their lives.

Visual and Memory Skills

We discovered that many people with Down syndrome have photographic visual memory, which can be incredibly helpful to them. They are visual learners, and love anything visual—movies, pictures, or any kind of images. But they also tend to take in images and keep them forever, and to replay past memories as if they are happening all over again. While this can be beneficial if the experiences are positive, problems can arise if they recall negative experiences. So we find many people with Down syndrome tend to be a little too susceptible to phobias. If they’ve had a bad run-in with a storm or an animal, any time they encounter a storm or an animal in their current environment, they may replay the original first experience of fear. They are also a little too susceptible to traumatic experiences. So we do ask that people keep an eye out for that, and if there are changes, this may be an indication they may be kind of re-experiencing a past trauma or phobia or some experience that affects them negatively.