4 Ways Physical Therapists Help People With Down Syndrome
Down syndrome (DS) is a genetic disorder causing babies to be born with an extra copy of chromosome 21. That additional copy changes the typical development of the brain and the body, causing intellectual and physical challenges. The effect is usually mild to moderate, and those with DS can lead happy and productive lives—going to school, participating in family and community activities, and holding jobs.
Although the condition continues throughout a person's life span, children and adults with DS can improve their ability to perform movement activities and everyday tasks with the help of physical therapists and other health care professionals.
Working side-by-side with individuals with DS and their families, physical therapists can help prevent some of the complications of the condition, such as developmental delay and obesity, and help boost and maintain their levels of heart and cardiovascular fitness.
Your physical therapist will design an individualized treatment program that may include:
- Improving developmental skills. Physical therapists can help your child learn to master motor skills such as crawling, pulling up from sitting to standing, and walking. They can also help caregivers support their child's movement development by providing hands-on training for positioning, movement, feeding, and play, and suggest changes at home to encourage movement and communication development.
- Improving strength. Your physical therapist can teach exercises to improve and increase muscle strength. For children, this can include games and fun tasks that adjust as the child grows, identifying new fitness activities to reduce the risk of obesity and improve and maintain heart health.
- Improving balance, coordination, and postural control. Your physical therapist may use equipment such as a firm, round pillow or an exercise ball to improve your child's ability to hold the head erect or to maintain a sitting position. Other skills such as jumping, skipping, and dribbling a ball may be incorporated into a fun physical therapy regimen.
- Improving physical fitness. Your physical therapist will help determine the specific exercises, diet, and community involvement that can promote healthy living choices for your child, and prevent complications of DS, such as activity limitations and decreased participation with siblings or peers.
Physical therapy may be provided in the home or at another location like a community center, school, or a physical therapy outpatient clinic. Physical therapists work with other health care professionals to address the needs of individuals with DS, as treatment priorities shift throughout their life spans.