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Down Syndrome is a chromosomal abnormality (one extra chromosome) which manifests itself in mental retardation and certain physical characteristics. In addition, Down Syndrome babies develop slower than other children and may suffer from heart defects and other conditions. Of particular concern to physiotherapists is the fact that these children do not achieve physical milestones, such as crawling and walking, at the same rate as other children.
Children with Down Syndrome exhibit hypotonia or low tone. This is lack of tension in the muscle in its resting state. The child feels “floppy” when you hold him and his head turns to one side when you place him on his back. Hypotonia makes it difficult for the child to maintain and develop gross motor skills at the same rate as typical children. At Oakridge Physiotherapy , we would prescribe and monitor a variety of exercises to increase muscle tone and strength. Placing the child in different positions on a therapy ball and having him/her reach for a toy can strengthen neck, back, stomach and pelvic muscles, which would aid in the development of gross motor skills. Exercises to improve posture and balance as well as strength and endurance are part of the physiotherapy for Down syndrome program.
Decreased muscle strength in the legs contribute to poor posture and balance. Some children may lean to one side to compensate for weakness on the other side, or they may lock their knees to help them in standing. Problems with jumping, hopping and alternating feet when walking up or down stairs are common. Graded exercise and practice can build muscle strength and prevent the child from developing these compensatory patterns, which can lead to orthopedic problems in adolescence or adulthood.
At Oakridge Physiotherapy, we aim to make treatment enjoyable for the Down Syndrome child as well as the parent. Colourful balls, bolsters, swings, scooter boards and other apparatus are used to entice the child to participate. Parents are taught how to work with the child at home and to learn along with him/her, thereby encouraging parent-child bonding. With proper intervention and exercise, a child with Down Syndrome can lead a life of fuller physical function.
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