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Down Syndrome Development in the Early Years

Updated on December 14, 2015
Jaydalyn was born with Down Syndrome. Here is my granddaughter at 3 years old.
Jaydalyn was born with Down Syndrome. Here is my granddaughter at 3 years old. | Source

Not so long ago, a diagnosis of Down Syndrome most often meant a child would be placed in an institution for the rest of his or her life – and life expectancy was low because certain health conditions such as hypothyroidism were not identified and treated as they are today.

Over the last few decades, researchers, teachers, therapists and parents have made great strides in the treatment of Down Syndrome. Due to early intervention and the lifting of limits, many kids with DS who once would not have had a fighting chance now grow up to live independent, enjoyable lives.

Down Syndrome Development: The Importance of Stimulation

The key to teaching any child is in capturing his or her interest. Children who have DS are the same way. Studies have shown that when placed in a stimulating environment, kids with Down Syndrome learn better than others who don't learn in a stimulating environment.

Early stimulation:

  • Designs and pictures in bold color
  • Mobiles and plants hanging from the ceiling
  • Lots of pretty pictures on the walls
  • Music
  • Reading aloud to your baby
  • Talking directly to your baby in a higher pitch and mimicking your baby when they start to "talk" to you. This tells them that they got it right and encourages them to try more sounds.

It is so fun to watch a baby when they achieve a milestone. Their eyes sparkle and they smile... and it is true that every milestone should be celebrated. MAKE a big deal over their first sounds. Make a big deal over their first time rolling over, lifting up their head on their own, taking a bottle..... Your reaction signals to them that they are on the right track.

Early Intervention for Kids with Down Syndrome

According to The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY):

Shortly after a diagnoses of Down syndrome is confirmed, parents should be encouraged to enroll their child in an infant development/early intervention program. These programs offer parents special instruction in teaching their child language, cognitive, self-help, and social skills, and specific exercises for gross and fine motor development. Research has shown that stimulation during early developmental stages improves the child's chances of developing to his or her fullest potential. Continuing education, positive public attitudes, and a stimulating home environment have also been found to promote the child's overall development.

About IEP'S

IEP stands for an Individualized Education Program which is specific for children with special needs. An IEP is a program that you can be involved in every step of the way. There is a lot of paperwork involved and it is useful to know the ins and outs of the rules and resources. A great book to get is "The Complete IEP Guide: How to Advocate for Your Special Ed Child". This book not only explains everything you need to know, it also provides forms you can copy off for future use. It also contains the special education laws. If you have a child with Down Syndrome, this book is a MUST.

Communication Development in Kids with Down Syndrome

For children with Down Syndrome, acquiring the skills to communicate takes an integration of sensory development, cognitive abilities, and motor skills. Communication is tied up in more than just auditory sounds. This is good to know because even if your child isn't able to convey their needs through their voice, there are other ways of doing so. Sign language and pictures are two great ways of helping your child learn to talk to you.

There are several different reasons your child with DS may have difficulty learning to communicate with their voice. Factors like short verbal attention span, low muscle tone, an enlarged tongue, possible hearing impairments and decreased cognitive skill will affect their speech and language development.

The great news is that by exercising all the areas of development, you are teaching your baby to communicate and eventually speak.

Personal Book Review:

The best book I have found on helping your child learn to communicate effectively is “Early Communication Skills for Children with Down Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals”. This book doesn't just tell you what is involved; it gives you REAL guidance on helping your child achieve social communication.


Some of the topics covered in this book:

  • Cognitive Development and Communication
  • Sensory Stimulation
  • Dozens and DOZENS of home activities you can do with your child in the spirit of play.
  • Charts you can copy off to keep records of progress
  • The various stages of treatment from birth to 6 years
  • How tests are put together and implemented

And much, much more.

Boy with DS Signing at 36 months

Down Syndrome and Motor Skills Development

Hypotonia, or low muscle tone, is a major factor with Down Syndrome. Children with this problem should have early intervention to get those muscles working in order to encourage gross and fine motor skills. The child with Down Syndrome should begin occupational therapies as soon as possible.

It is believed cognitive development is tied in with motor skills because in order to achieve success, the child will need to understand why the actions are necessary as well as have the dexterity to perform the actions.

Fine motor skills include the ability to grasp and manipulate with the hands and fingers. Hand-eye coordination is a part of these skills as well.

Gross motor skills are the movement of the larger muscles in the body. Movements include crawling, walking, catching and throwing, climbing...

Sleeping positions and development:

The most obvious position for your baby is on his or her back. It has been found that laying babies on their stomach contributes to SIDS, so save that position for tummy time.

Sometimes babies do better when they lay on their sides. However, if you do this, be sure to switch the side each time. If they lay always on their right side, their head can form a flat spot on that side.

Even while laying on their back, some babies will turn their head one way more than the other. You can encourage a shift by placing a folded blanket on one side of their head forcing them to look the other way for a while. Once they are looking around and observing their surroundings, lay them so all the action is going on in the direction they tend NOT to prefer.

What is "tummy time"?

"Tummy time" earned it's name when doctors realized that sleeping on the back lowered the risk of SIDS. If you ONLY lay your child on their back, they won't develop the muscles they need for gross motor skills as efficiently, so "tummy time" became a phrase used for actively participating in your child's development. This is true especially if your child has Down Syndrome.

From the time you bring your child home, you should lay them on their stomach while you get down on the floor with them. Help them figure out how to place their arms for support so they can start lifting their heads up. It develops muscles and helps them coordinate their arms and legs to begin crawling. Do this ONLY if their doctor does not tell you otherwise.

My daughter found it easier to hold her baby on her own stomach. Her little one liked to lift her head up to look at her mama's face. If your baby has a G tube and still has not gotten the button for it, this may make you feel more secure about tummy time.

At 5, she's got that personality :)
At 5, she's got that personality :) | Source
Loving a ride in the wagon. Kids with DS enjoy the little things!
Loving a ride in the wagon. Kids with DS enjoy the little things! | Source


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    • SEO IT! profile image

      Karla Whitmore 7 years ago from Tucson, AZ

      Holly - ;)

    • profile image

      Holly Cupp 7 years ago

      What a beautiful baby girl =) She looks so happy, I bet her mama just loves her to pieces and is darn good at her job =) hee hee

    • SEO IT! profile image

      Karla Whitmore 7 years ago from Tucson, AZ

      Thanks all :)

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 7 years ago from England

      Hi, a very well written hub. Everything you need to know about DS. This is great as there is so much I didn't realise. I remember seeing a TV programme about this. It is amazing what the doctors and parents can do these days to help these children. Well worth a Rate up! cheers nell

    • Cydni Montgomery profile image

      Cydni Montgomery 7 years ago

      Fantastic hub! Really informative and very well written. Kudos!

    • sheila b. profile image

      sheila b. 7 years ago

      My experience of seeing teens and young adults with DS at a dance showed me how enthusiastic and fun-loving and full of energy they are. We have something to learn from them, to enjoy the moment.

    • rosecobra profile image

      rosecobra 7 years ago

      I have a niece who has downs syndrome. She is now in her twenties and has led a beautiful life thanks to loving parents who educated themselves about this condition. Thanks for the information.