Ds Awareness Day#13: Development, Early Intervention, and Therapy.
The first years of life are a critical time in any child’s development. All young children go through the most rapid and developmentally significant changes during this time. During these early years, they achieve the basic physical, cognitive, language, social and self-help skills that lay the foundation for future progress, and these abilities are attained according to predictable developmental patterns.
Development is a continuous process that begins at conception and proceeds stage by stage in an orderly sequence. Most children are expected to achieve each milestone at a designated time, also referred to as a “key age,” which can be calculated in terms of weeks, months or years. Children with Down syndrome typically face delays in certain areas of development, so Early Intervention is highly recommended. It can begin anytime after birth, but the sooner it starts, the better.
Children with Down syndrome will achieve all of the same milestones as other children, just on their own timetable.
The most common therapies through Early Intervention are:
Physical Therapy – children with Down syndrome generally have low muscle tone, and benefit from physical therapy as it focuses on gross motor skill development.
Occupational Therapy – children with Down syndrome generally need additional support to develop and master skills for independence. Occupational therapy can help with abilities, generally fine motor skills, 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.
Speech and Language Therapy – though children 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.
Peter’s Story: Peter has benefited from all of the above therapies since birth, in addition to Music Therapy (until age 3), and now therapeutic riding. The wonderful therapists that have worked with Peter have become part of our family. Many of them with Peter since his first year, meaning they have been a part of our family watching all our kids grow up. Peter now receives therapy at school too, although the time allocation is minimal, so we continue private therapy.
As a parent, keeping up with therapy and all the other appointments that normally come with our kiddos, can be easily become overwhelming. The pressure to “practice” everything between sessions can become stressful too. I know I had anxiety that if I didn’t work enough with Peter, that I would be limiting his potential. I feared that I would look back one day and realize I was the reason he couldn’t do something. But on the flip side, I didn’t want to treat Peter like a science experiment with constant pushing of tasks.
Peter benefits from free play – to be an ordinary kid. Something about climbing the ladder and stopping himself at the end of the slide looks a lot like Physical Therapy. The endless hours he could spend stacking blocks and playing with his toy cars/trains looks a lot like Occupational Therapy. Singing to “Frozen” with Gretchen works on that Speech Therapy. Sometimes Peter wants to play with his siblings, and other times he rather just play alone. Gotta love that independent play!
Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.