The overarching goal of early intervention programs is to enhance and accelerate development by building on a child's strength and by strengthening those skills that are weaker in all areas of development.
Types of Early Intervention Therapies and How Each Type Addresses Specific Aspects of a Baby's Development
Physical therapy focuses on motor development. For example, during the first three to four months of life, an infant is expected to gain head control and the ability to pull to a sitting positions (with help) with no head lags and enough strength in the upper torso to maintain an erect posture. Appropriate physical therapy may assist a baby with Down syndrome, who may have low muscle tone, in achieving this milestone.
Before birth and in the first months of life, physical development remains the underlying foundation for all future progress. Babies learn through interaction with their environment. In order to learn, therefore, an infant must have the ability to move freely and purposefully. An infant's ability to explore his or her surroundings, reach and grasp toys, turn his or her head while watching a moving object, roll over and crawl are all dependent upon gross as well as fine motor development. These physical, interactive activities foster understanding and mastery of the environment, stimulating cognitive, language and social development.
Another long term benefit of physical therapy is that it helps prevent compensatory movement patterns that individuals with Down syndrome are prone to developing. Such patterns can lead to orthopedic and functional problems if not corrected. For more information about physical therapy,
Speech and Language Therapy
Speech and language therapy is a critical component of early intervention. 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 aquire before they can learn to form words. These include the ability to imitate and echo sounds; turn taking skills (learned through games like "peek-a-boo"); visual skills (looking at the speaker and objects); auditory skills (listening to music, speech, or speech sounds for lengthening periods of time); tactile skills (learning about touch, exploring objects in the mouth); oral motor skills (using the tongue, moving the lips); and cognitive skills (understanding object permanence and cause and effect relationships).
A speech and language therapist can help with these and other skills, including breastfeeding. Because breastfeeding employs the same anatomical structures used for speech, it can help strengthen a baby's jaw and facial muscles and lay the foundation for future communication skills. For more information about speech and language therapy,
Occupational therapy helps children develop and master skills for independence. 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. Therapists also help children learn to feed and dress themselves and teach them skills for playing and interacting with other children. For more information about occupational therapy,
The information featured in this section is reproduced via an exclusive arrangement with National Down Syndrome Society [ONLINE] Available at http://www.ndss.org