A diagnosis of Down syndrome for your child may leave you feeling helpless at first. But while there may be no cure for the condition, there’s much you can do as a parent so your child reaches their best potential and has a good quality of life. With the right care, a person with Down syndrome can overcome many of their disabilities, engage in meaningful relationships, and work and lead productive and fulfilling lives. Here’s what you need to know to give them that leg-up they deserve!
Children with Down syndrome have a higher risk for certain diseases – for instance, heart disorders, thyroid dysfunctions, digestive problems, bowel abnormalities, hearing and vision problems, and infections. These conditions, if they exist, need to be identified and treated promptly. A healthcare professional should be consulted within the first 3 months of life. They will also need periodic hearing, vision, and dental checkups, as well as heart checkups, thyroid tests, and growth monitoring.1
Down syndrome is essentially linked to problems with chromosomes, which are bits of DNA that hold the blueprint of our body. While all of us have two copies of each chromosome and 46 chromosomes per cell, a person with this condition has 47 chromosomes because of an extra copy of chromosome 21. This may be the case for all the cells in the body or some. This genetic variation is responsible for the mental and distinct physical characteristics of this syndrome. Children with Down syndrome typically develop slower than other children. Language development and motor development are also usually affected and they may have less body strength.2 But there is no single treatment pattern for treating the condition and treatment varies from child to child. Some specific therapies and measures, however, can considerably enhance their quality of life and development.34 5 They include:
1. Physical Therapy
Children with Down syndrome may experience marked delays in developing motor skills, lagging behind in their ability to reach for, hold, or grasp things. They may also have difficulties with milestones like rolling, sitting, crawling, and walking. Physical therapy uses exercises and activities that improve muscle strength, balance, and posture as well as build motor skills. Physical therapists can help children with this syndrome deal with movement problems and physical challenges like low muscle tone (hypotonia) and nip long-term problems in the bud. For instance, the therapist may help the child develop an effective walking pattern in place of one that may result in foot pain.
What parents can do
Here are a few tips that you can put in place to help your child:
- Allow your baby to play in various positions. Depending on what they are comfortable with, aim at honing associated skills. For instance, if a baby seems to be happy on their belly, encourage them to crawl, climb and pivot. You are best equipped to understand your child’s natural leanings and can channelize this to their advantage.
- Experiment with different toys and a variety of games. This will be one of the best ways to practice any movement. Use rhymes (like row, row, row your boat) and use animated gestures to prompt them to understand actions.
- As your child grows older, you can use yoga, dance, and music to enable them to control movement.
2. Speech Therapy
Children with Down syndrome display some characteristic strengths which you can leverage while teaching them. For instance, they usually enjoy social interactions, visual learning, reading, and drama, mime, and movement.6
Speech and language therapy helps in the more effective use of language and enhances communication skills. Children with Down syndrome often start speaking a little later than others. A speech therapist can help them develop skills which are necessary for speaking, often starting with the imitation of sounds. Many children may also understand language and have the desire to communicate even if they are not able to speak properly. In these cases, a speech therapist can teach them alternative ways of communicating using pictures and sign language. They can also be helpful later on in life, assisting with pronunciation, remembering and learning of words, conversation skills, and comprehension.
- Get your child’s hearing checked. Often issues with learning to talk are linked to hearing problems.
- Chat with your child as you go about everyday activities like bathing, dressing, going to the park etc.
- Point out, talk about, and name things that your child’s looking at and read books together. Play games involving vocabulary and sentence making.
- Encourage the making of simple sounds and animal noises. Imitate your child’s sounds and actions as this gets their attention and encourages them to communicate with you. They will learn to communicate by imitation eventually.
- Instead of correcting your child when they make mistakes while talking, say the word or sentence clearly and correctly yourself. Show lots of appreciation when they get things right.
3. Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapy focuses on honing basic fine motor and “self-care” skills so your child can manage everyday tasks like writing, getting dressed, eating, and using computers. Occupational therapists will be able to guide you on suitable activities for your child and can recommend the right equipment and adaptations needed at home and otherwise to suit the child. They can also help older children find careers or identify skills which match their interests.
Motivate your child to be independent as early as possible. Try to get them to do tasks like dressing, feeding, going to their toilet, brushing their teeth etc. by themselves. If you continue helping your child, they could become dependent on you and may not try to do things by themselves.
4. Behavioral And Emotional Therapy
Children who have Down syndrome can become frustrated when they have trouble communicating. They may also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), other mental problems, or compulsive behaviors. Behavioral therapists try to understand why a child is acting out, teach better ways of responding to a situation, and strategize and defuse triggers. They also help a child develop better interpersonal and coping skills and deal with emotions.
- Create opportunities for your child to play with other children and include them in family activities. Children learn social skills by interacting with other adults, children, and family members.
- Let your child play with other children in a mainstream playgroup or nursery if that’s possible. Children who have Down syndrome are especially good at watching and imitating others.
- As with all children, established routines, appreciation for good behavior, and being in control as a parent can help defuse behavioral problems.
5. Assistive Devices
Assistive devices can help some people with Down syndrome do tasks more easily or enhance learning. Hearing aids, special pencils that make it easier to write, bands that assist with movement, slanted desks that help compensate for wrist immobility, computers that have large letter keyboards and touchscreens can all be used to make life easier for a person with this condition.
6. Nutritional Treatments
Research on the benefits of nutritional treatments for people with Down syndrome is somewhat conflicting. Some studies advocate that nutritional supplementation with elements like zinc, folic acid, and selenium can help boost immunity, reduce the chances of illnesses, and boost development. People with Down syndrome have also been seen to be deficient in nutrients such as vitamin A, E, and C and may benefit from antioxidant supplementation and protection. However, other studies contradict this, suggesting that all people with Down syndrome do not suffer from these nutritional deficiencies. While more extensive research will be able to resolve this, here’s what we do know for sure. Having a healthy, balanced diet can ward off nutritional deficiencies and keep your child alert and engaged. Keep an eye on your child’s dietary habits, get routine tests, and talk to your doctor if tests show any deficiency.7 8
|↑1, ↑3, ↑5, ↑6||Information for parents Down syndrome. UK Govt.|
|↑4||What are common treatments for Down syndrome?.
|↑7||Buckley, Frank, and Ben Sacks. “Multi-nutrient formulas and other substances as therapies for Down syndrome: an overview.” Down Syndrome News and Update 1, no. 2 (1998): 70-83.|
|↑8||Down’s Syndrome (Holistic).