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Down Syndrome (DS) | How Down Syndrome Affects Children?

  • Children with Down syndrome tend to share certain physical features such as a flat facial profile, an upward slant to the eyes, small ears, and a protruding tongue.
  • Low muscle tone (called hypotonia) is also characteristic of children with DS, and babies in particular may seem especially “floppy.” Though this can and often does improve over time, most children with DS typically reach developmental milestones — like sitting up, crawling, and walking — later than other kids.
  • At birth, children with DS are usually of average size, but they tend to grow at a slower rate and remain smaller than their peers. For infants, low muscle tone may contribute to sucking and feeding problems, as well as constipation and other digestive issues. Toddlers and older kids may have delays in speech and self-care skills like feeding, dressing, and toilet teaching.
  • Down syndrome affects a child’s ability to learn in different ways, but most have mild to moderate intellectual impairment. Kids with DS can and do learn, and are capable of developing skills throughout their lives. They simply reach goals at a different pace ( slower than normal) — which is why it’s important not to compare a child with DS against typically developing siblings or even other children with the condition.
  • Kids with DS have a wide range of abilities, and there’s no way to tell at birth what they will be capable of as they grow up.

Medical Problems Associated With DS

  • While some kids with DS have no significant health problems, others may experience a host of medical issues that require extra care. For example, almost half of all children born with DS will have a congenital heart problem.
  • Kids with Down syndrome are also at an increased risk of developing pulmonary hypertension, a serious condition that can lead to irreversible damage to the lungs. All infants with Down syndrome should be evaluated by a paediatric cardiologist (heart doctor).
    Approximately half of all kids with DS also have problems with hearing and vision. Hearing loss can be related to fluid build-up in the inner ear or to structural problems of the ear itself. Vision problems commonly include strabismus (cross-eyed), near- or farsightedness, and an increased risk of cataracts.
  • Regular evaluations by an ENT specialist (ear, nose, and throat doctor), audiologist, and an ophthalmologist are necessary to detect and correct any problems before they affect language and learning skills.
  • Other medical conditions that may occur more frequently in kids with DS include thyroid problems, intestinal abnormalities, seizure disorders, respiratory problems, obesity, an increased susceptibility to infection, and a higher risk of childhood leukaemia- a type of cancer. Upper neck abnormalities are sometimes found and should be evaluated by a doctor (these can be detected by cervical spine X-rays). Fortunately, many of these conditions are treatable.
  • Today, many children with Down syndrome go to school and enjoy many of the same activities as other kids their age. A few may go on to tertiary qualification. Many children transition to semi-independent living. Still others continue to live at home but are able to hold jobs, thus finding their own success in the community.

 

It is advisable to get a child with Down syndrome in an early-intervention services as soon as possible. Physical, occupational, and speech therapists and early-childhood educators can work with the child to encourage and accelerate development.

How the Thusanani team will help a child with Down syndrome?

Our occupational therapists are trained in child development, neurology, medical conditions, psychosocial development, and therapeutic techniques. We will focus on the child’s ability to master skills for independence. This can include:

 

  • Self care skills (feeding, dressing, grooming etc.)
  • Fine and gross motor skills
  • Skills related to school performance (eg: drawing, cutting etc.)
  • Play and leisure skills

 

We will assist with oral-motor feeding problems (this can also be addressed by Speech Pathologists). Due to hypotonia and weakness of the muscles of the cheeks, tongue and lips, feeding is difficult for some infants with Down syndrome. We will suggest positioning and feeding techniques, and can be involved in doing feeding studies, if necessary.

 

Our team of therapists will also help facilitate motor milestones, particularly for fine motor skills. Occupational therapists will work with you to help the young child develop gross motor milestones (eg: sitting, crawling, standing, and walking). We will also promote arm and hand movements that lay the foundation for later developing fine motor skills. The low muscle tone and loose ligaments at the joints associated with Down syndrome are real challenges to early motor development and occupational therapy can help the child meet those challenges.