There is no single, standard treatment for Down syndrome. Treatments are based on each individual’s physical and intellectual needs as well as his or her personal strengths and limitations. People with Down syndrome can receive proper care while living at home and in the community.
A child with Down syndrome likely will receive care from a team of health professionals, including, but not limited to, physicians, special educators, speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and social workers. All professionals who interact with children with Down syndrome should provide stimulation and encouragement.
People with Down syndrome are at a greater risk for a number of health problems and conditions than are those who do not have Down syndrome. Many of these associated conditions may require immediate care right after birth, occasional treatment throughout childhood and adolescence, or long-term treatments throughout life. For example, an infant with Down syndrome may need surgery a few days after birth to correct a heart defect; or a person with Down syndrome may have digestive problems that require a lifelong special diet.
|Early Intervention and Educational Therapy|
“Early intervention” refers to a range of specialized programs and resources that professionals provide to very young children with Down syndrome and their families. These professionals may include special educators, speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and social workers.
A variety of therapies can be used in early intervention programs and throughout a person’s life to promote the greatest possible development, independence and productivity. Some of these therapies are listed below.
- Physical therapy includes activities and exercises that help build motor skills, increase muscle strength, and improve posture and balance.
- Physical therapy is important, especially early in a child’s life, because physical abilities lay the foundation for other skills. The ability to turn over, crawl and reach helps infants learn about the world around them and how to interact with it.
- A physical therapist also can help a child with Down syndrome compensate for physical challenges, such as low muscle tone, in ways that avoid long-term problems. For example, a physical therapist might help a child establish an efficient walking pattern, rather than one that might lead to foot pain.
- Speech-language therapy can help children with Down syndrome improve their communication skills and use language more effectively.
- Children with Down syndrome often learn to speak later than their peers. A speech-language therapist can help them develop the early skills necessary for communication, such as imitating sounds. The therapist also may help an infant breastfeed because breastfeeding can strengthen muscles that are used for speech.
- In many cases, children with Down syndrome understand language and want to communicate before they can speak. A speech-language therapist can help a child use alternate means of communication, such as sign language and pictures, until he or she learns to speak.
- Learning to communicate is an ongoing process, so a person with Down syndrome also may benefit from speech and language therapy in school as well as later in life. The therapist may help with conversation skills, pronunciation skills, understanding what is read (called comprehension), and learning and remembering words.
- Occupational therapy helps find ways to adjust everyday tasks and conditions to match a person’s needs and abilities.
- This type of therapy teacher’s self-care skills such as eating, getting dressed, writing and using a computer.
- An occupational therapist might offer special tools that can help improve everyday functioning, such as a pencil that is easier to grip.
- At the high school level, an occupational therapist could help teenagers identify jobs, careers or skills that match their interests and strengths.
- Emotional and behavioral therapies work to find useful responses to both desirable and undesirable behaviors. Children with Down syndrome may become frustrated because of difficulty communicating, may develop compulsive behaviors and may have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and other mental health issues. These types of therapists try to understand why a child is acting out, create ways and strategies for avoiding or preventing these situations from occurring and teach better or more positive ways to respond to situations.
- A psychologist, counselor or other mental health professional can help a child deal with emotions and build coping and interpersonal skills.
- The changes in hormone levels that adolescents experience during puberty can cause them to become more aggressive. Behavioral therapists can help teenagers recognize their intense emotions and teach them healthy ways to reach a feeling of calmness.
- Parents may also benefit from guidance on how to help a child with Down syndrome manage day-to-day challenges and reach his or her full potential.