While there is no permanent cure for Down Syndrome (DS) yet, therapy is very important in improving the quality of life for people with this condition. There is a great amount of support and help available for people with DS, attain their full potential and help them live independently. With India being one of the highest birthing nations, there is a greater incidence of Down Syndrome and it occurs in approximately 1 out of 830 live births, as per the Down Syndrome Federation of India. The average life expectancy for people with DS has increased from 25 years to 60 years in recent times. It’s undeniable that they should receive therapy that can help with improving their quality of life simultaneously.
Before we get to the whys and hows of therapy, we would like to first bust some myths about DS!
Now that we have that cleared, let’s get to it.
The Importance of Therapy :
The goal of therapy in every situation is to help one to cope with a condition where treatment is not possible and that is the case for people with Down Syndrome. Therapy can help them achieve independence in self-care like feeding and dressing, fine and gross motor skills, school performance, and play and leisure activities and eventually to live as independent adults later in life.
As with all special needs, early intervention is of utmost importance. When parents act early and get help, this can allow children to learn better mechanisms of coping and learning. This can also prevent certain incorrect coping strategies that children might use which might affect them adversely later on. Eg. Children might develop compensatory movement patterns that can lead to orthopaedic and functional problems if not corrected.
The early intervention, therefore, assists in developing appropriate behaviour and physical skills that are much needed, even before they reach schooling age. Early intervention can also prevent a child with Down Syndrome from reaching a plateau at some point in development.
Different Types of Therapy:
The kind of therapy and treatment that people with Down Syndrome require will depend on their age, overall health, strengths and limitations. Growing research and much-needed advocacy have seen a recent increase in the availability of support and opportunities. The most common early intervention therapies for babies with Down Syndrome are speech and language therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy.
Speech-Language Therapy: Babies with Down Syndrome often experience challenges with feeding, swallowing and speech difficulties due to anatomical and physiological differences in their mouth area. A speech and language therapist can help with these and other skills which will lay the foundation for future communication skills. In time, the goal of this therapy is to improve communication. It focuses on articulation and strengthening the oral muscles. It’s often recommended to start at the earliest time possible. Even though babies with Down syndrome may not say their first words until 2 or 3 years of age, there are many pre-speech and pre-language skills that they must acquire before they can learn to form words. Speech therapy provides the child with the necessary skills to overcome speech difficulties and thereby encourage communication.
Physical Therapy: People with Down Syndrome are born with weak muscle tone. The focal point of physical therapy is to help children improve their movement, coordination, balance, and posture. This starts with helping an infant to explore his or her surroundings, reach and grasp toys, turn his or her head while watching a moving object, roll over and crawl. The therapy focusses on gross as well as fine motor development and for children to move freely and purposefully. As children grow older, therapy directs its attention to assisting them in more complex physical activities.
Occupational therapy (OT). The role of OT for children with Down Syndrome keeps varying as they go through various stages of life, although at all points the aim is to help them master skills for independence. When they are infants, therapists might help their mothers with feeding the child, as they are born with weak muscles. Once in schools, occupational therapy aims to provide them with skills for self-care, like independently dressing, feeding following school routines, developing writing grip, and participating in activities, playing and interacting with other kids.
Occupational therapy can help with abilities such as opening and closing things, picking up and releasing toys of various sizes and shapes, stacking and building, manipulating knobs and buttons, experimenting with crayons etc. Occupational therapy continues to be a part of their lives, well into adulthood, to help them find and retain productive work, live independently, including finding entertainment and recreation.
If you have a child with Down Syndrome, reach out to us for support and guidance. Our team of therapists will be more than happy to help in planning a complete individual learning plan for your child. We’ve got your back!