Early intervention is a systematic program of therapy, exercises and activities designed to address developmental delays that may be experienced by children with Down syndrome – with the goal of enhancing the development of infants and toddlers and helping families understand and meet the needs of their children. The most common early intervention services for babies with Down syndrome are physical therapy, speech and language therapy, and occupational therapy.
Children with Down syndrome want to do what all children want to do, they want to sit, crawl, walk, explore their environment, and interact with the people around them. To do that, they need to develop their gross motor skills. Because of certain physical characteristics, which include hypotonia (low muscle tone), ligamentous laxity (looseness of the ligaments that causes increased flexibility in the joints) and decreased strength, children with Down syndrome don’t develop motor skills in the same way that the typically-developing child does.
The Goal of physical therapy for these children is not to accelerate the rate of their development, as is often presumed, but to facilitate the development of optimal movement patterns. This means that over the long term, you want to help the child develop good posture, proper foot alignment, an efficient walking pattern, and a good physical foundation for exercise throughout life.
When your child is an infant, your immediate concerns relate to his health and growth, development of the basic motor milestones, social interaction with you and others, interest in things going on around him, and early speech sounds and responses.
At this stage an OT may become involved to:
● Assist with oral-motor feeding problems (this can also be addressed by Speech Pathologists). Due to hypotonia and weakness of the muscles of the cheeks, tongue and lips, feeding is difficult for some infants with Down syndrome. OTs suggest positioning and feeding techniques, and can be involved in doing feeding studies, if necessary.
● Help facilitate motor milestones, particularly for fine motor skills. Occupational therapists and Physical therapists work closely together to help the young child develop gross motor milestones (eg:sitting, crawling, standing, walking).OTs work with the child at this stage to promote arm and hand movements that lay the foundation for later developing fine motor skills. The low muscle tone and loose ligaments at the joints associated with Down syndrome are real challenges to early motor development and occupational therapy can help your child meet those challenges.
Speech & Language Therapy
Most children with Down syndrome learn to speak and will use speech as their primary means of communication, they will understand language and have the desire to communicate well before they are able to speak. Total communication, using sign language, pictures can serve as a transitional communication system. Parents are the primary communicators interacting with their babies and young children; thus, parents can do a great deal to help their children learn to communicate.Many of pre-speech and pre-language skills are best learned in the home environment.