If you’re a parent of a child with Down syndrome (DS), you may wonder how DS will affect his motor development. While every child with DS is different, it’s common for motor skills to be delayed. Research tells us the majority of children with DS do develop the skills they need for everyday motor tasks – but they often need extra time and practice to get there.
We’ll talk about what you can do to help, but first let’s take a look at why children with DS tend to have delayed motor development.
How Down Syndrome Affects Motor Development
It’s common for children with DS to have decreased strength, low muscle tone, overly flexible joints, and difficulty with balance. All of these can cause delays in motor development. What’s more, they can lead a child to find compensations and workarounds that can further affect motor skills.
This study evaluated the age at which children with DS achieved certain motor milestones. For both standing and walking, 10% were able to do so by less than 3 years of age and 95% were able to do so by 3 to 6 years of age.
How does this compare with typically developing children? Another study found that children with DS generally took twice the time to develop motor skills than those without. The study also found that other factors, such as the need for surgery because of heart problems, can also contribute to motor delays.
What This Means for You
Don’t rush it. Help children with Down syndrome focus on the fundamentals of motor development instead of specific milestones. These include good posture, good foot alignment, and an efficient walking pattern. A qualified physical therapist can help you set the pace while you’re working on motor fundamentals with your child.
Concentrate on your child’s preferences. For example, what position is he happiest in—crawling, sitting up? Help him build new skills from there. What activities is he happiest doing? Incorporate those in motor skills practice to keep him interested and motivated.
Follow your child’s lead. Tune into how your child is doing with motor skill practice. Is he struggling? Provide more support, or take a break. It’s not about the quantity of time of spent, it’s the quality.
Your child always wins! Treat the exercises and skills you are working on like a game. Help him understand the goal of the game, work on it together, and eventually encourage him to accomplish it on his own. Then celebrate the victories!
About Physical Therapy
A qualified physical therapist who is knowledgeable about DS can evaluate your child and create a plan to improve his motor skills, strength, balance, and coordination. And, as we mentioned above, a PT can also help you set a doable pace for achieving motor development goals.
To read more about DS, head over to our articles on Down syndrome, an overview; Down syndrome and language development; Down syndrome and cognitive development; and Down syndrome and social emotional development.