What is Down’s Syndrome

Down’s Syndrome is a genetic condition that occurs as a result of an abnormality of the twenty-first chromosome. It is caused by the presence of an extra chromosone in a baby’s cells and occurs by chance at conception. Every child is different but Down’s Syndrome affects a baby’s physical appearance and causes delayed physical and mental development and mild to moderate learning difficulties (NHS 2010).

Children with Down’s Syndrome often present with several clinical features that can have an impact on the development of fine (e.g. pencil skills, fastening buttons) and gross motor (bigger movements such as running and jumping) skills. These include;

  • Hypotonia (low muscle tone)
  • Laxity of ligaments
  • Hypermobility (excessive joint range of movement)

Low muscle tone and ligament laxity are thought to have an impact on postural control and motor development. Balance and muscle strength are often also found to be reduced.

Motor development in children with Down’s Syndrome is usually delayed when compared with typically developing infants and children. All the basic motor skills are achieved in mostly the same order, but usually at significantly older ages and progress at the same pace as their general mental development. Most children achieve competence in all everyday gross and fine motor skills even though they develop more slowly. There is greater variability in the basic motor progress of children with Down’s Syndrome when compared with typically developing children. For example, the average age for walking in typically developing children is 13 months and the range is 9-17 months, while the average age for walking in children with Down’s syndrome is 24 months and the range is 14-42 months.

How can physiotherapy help your child?

Research has shown that early intervention programmes can accelerate motor development. Children with Down’s Syndrome benefit from repetition and practice of skills through play and positioning and exposure to a variety of movement experiences. At Gateway Physiotherapy, your therapist can provide you with a comprehensive activity programme that aims to promote your child’s development.

“We aim to support families to better understand the needs of your child and so you can help them to reach their maximum potential.”

More information and a support helpline can be found at Down’s Syndrome Association