Serving the Greater Kalamazoo Area

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Down Syndrome and Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy practitioners like those at The Therapy Place in Kalamazoo, MI work with people with Down syndrome, at any age, to help them master skills for independent living. 

Often occupational therapy can reinforce or teach the self-care skills needed for activities of daily living like dressing and grooming, school or work performance, and play and leisure activities. 

Infants and preschool-age Children with Down Syndrome 

Infants and preschool-age children with Down syndrome are identified when commonly recognized motor skills and visual and auditory developmental delays become evident. 

During infancy, immediate concerns often relate to health and growth and development of the basic motor milestones. Infants also display milestones for:

  • social interaction
  • an interest in things going on around them
  • and early speech sounds and responses. 

An example of infant occupational therapy would be helping the mother whose child is having feeding problems. Whether it’s because the infant has weak muscles in their cheeks, tongue, or lips, with OT, mothers can learn to assist their child to a more successful feeding. 

The occupational therapist also will provide the infant and preschool-age child with opportunities for learning including the beginning steps to feeding and dressing themselves, appropriate play and socialization, increased speech and language skills, and improved gross motor skills.

School-age children with Down Syndrome

School-age children with Down syndrome may identify with a lack of self-care skills like zipping a jacket; fine motor skills like cutting with scissors; or completing multi-step routines in the classroom or at home.  

For children with Down syndrome, occupational therapy focuses on:

  • improving motor skills
  • firming low muscle tone
  • tightening loose ligaments, and 
  • identifying visual and auditory deficits to improve independence. 

Frequently, occupational therapists will work with the child to facilitate fine motor skills for use at school, but they also look at physical positioning for the child’s greatest chance at successful performance. They also may determine if program adaptations are necessary based on the child’s physical abilities. 

An example of school-aged child occupational therapy would be a child who is having trouble focusing at school and completing assignments. With occupational therapy, the child would learn both the self-care and the social skills needed to be successful in the classroom through play, manipulations, and social modeling techniques.

Many OTs work in K-12 schools and provide help for children with Down syndrome to learn printing, handwriting, keyboarding, and other fine-motor skills. 

Adults with Down Syndrome

Adults with Down syndrome frequently live independently with or without support. The decision is often made based on the person’s ability to complete the activities of daily living like keeping track of medical needs, adapting motor and communication skills to various environments, recognizing behavioral and social interaction needs, or advocating for their social and educational rights. 

Adult occupational therapy might take the form of reinforcing and improving fine and gross motor skills, the improvement of self-care responsibilities, or working with the adult to discover and access support resources beyond the occupational therapy clinic.

According to the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, “There are many misconceptions about people with Down syndrome. 

Three of the many misconceptions include:

  1. Only older parents have children with Down syndrome. Reality: According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research, about 80% of children who have Down syndrome are born to women younger than 35.
  2. A child with Down syndrome will ruin a marriage. Reality: A Vanderbilt Kennedy Center study published in the American Association of Intellectual Disabilities indicates that divorce rates are lower in families of children with Down syndrome. 
  3. People with Down syndrome can’t go to regular public schools. Reality: It is not only advisable that children with Down syndrome attend their public schools, in the U.S. it is required by law that public schools accept and provide an appropriate education to them. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act stipulates that “all children with disabilities must have available to them a free, appropriate public education that meets their unique needs and prepares them for further education, employment, and independent living.”

The bottom line is that people with Down syndrome may benefit greatly from occupational therapy at any age. Find out if OT is in your future.
No question or symptom is unimportant to us! If you have questions, please call and speak to one of our therapists at 269-544-2901 or send us an email and someone will get back to you.