The first years of life are very challenging in a child’s development. During this time they achieve the basic physical, social and self-help skills, they develop cognitive and early communication skills that lay the foundation for the future. Children with Down syndrome typically face delays in certain areas of development, therefore it is recommended that straight after the birth, early intervention and stimulation concepts are introduced at home … the sooner you start, the better.
Occupational therapy facilitates the development of fine motor skills such as everyday tasks like feeding, dressing and grooming and helps find ways to adjust and match a person’s needs and abilities. Occupational therapists who work with children have knowledge in child development, neurology, medical conditions, psychosocial development, and therapeutic techniques. Occupational therapists focus on the child’s ability to master skills for independence.
Therapy for infants can include:
- addressing concerns relating to his/her health and growth
- basic motor milestones
- social interaction with you and others
- early speech sounds and responses
Therapy for toddlers can include:
- skills related to school performance (e.g. pre-writing, cutting, painting, work with glue etc.)
- play and leisure skills
- self care skills
- fine and gross motor skills
Therapy for older children can include helping teenagers identify jobs that match their skills interests and strengths.
Physical therapy includes activities and exercises that help build motor skills, increase muscle strength, and improve posture and balance. The goal of physical therapy is to facilitate the development of gross motor skills such as good posture, proper foot alignment and a good foundation for exercise throughout life.
Physical therapy is important, especially early in a child’s life, because physical abilities lay the foundation for other skills. For example the ability to turn over and crawl helps infants learn about the world around them and how to interact with it. Physical therapy can help a child with Down syndrome compensate for physical challenges, such as low muscle tone, in ways that avoid long-term problems.
Therapy will focus on:
- child’s long-term functional outcome
- minimising the development of compensatory movement patterns
- strengthening the appropriate muscles so that the child uses optimal movement patterns
- correctung posture and exercise
After a phase of observation and assessment the physiotherapist will know what skill the child is ready to learn and develop a way to teach him/her that skill. A physiotherapist helps parents to break the tasks down into its component parts. The parents can then incorporate these exercises into the daily routine. Through practice and repetition, the child will develop strength and efficiency.
Children with Down syndrome are usually good communicators but in the early years speech and language present many challenges. Articulation problems are the most common issues and this is why almost every child with Down syndrome can benefit from speech therapy.
Most children with Down syndrome have good receptive language so they understand language before they are able to speak. Expressive language (the ability to speak) usually presents particular challenges in phonology and syntax. There are concepts and techniques that can help infants and toddlers i.e. sign language, picture flash cards and phonic signs as a transitional communication system.
Children with Down syndrome often manifest additional medical issues such as:
- Hearing difficulties
- Anatomical and physiological differences
- Articulation & phonological difficulties
- Problems in processing of auditory information
These issues further hamper the child’s communication development and can be addressed through speech therapy.