Early Intervention for Down Syndrome

More About Early Intervention Programs

Another long-term benefit of physical therapy is that it helps prevent compensatory movement patterns that individuals with Down syndrome are prone to developing. These patterns can lead to orthopedic and functional problems if not corrected.

Speech and language therapy is a critical component of early intervention. Even though babies with Down syndrome may not say first words until 2 or 3 years of age, there are many pre-speech and pre-language skills that they must acquire first. These include the ability to imitate and echo sounds; turn-taking skills (learned through games like peek-a-boo); visual skills (looking at the speaker and objects); auditory skills (listening to music and speech for lengthening periods of time, or listening to speech sounds); tactile skills (learning about touch, exploring objects in the mouth); oral motor skills (using the tongue, moving the lips); and cognitive skills (understanding object permanence, and cause-and-effect relationships).

A speech and language therapist can help with these and other skills, as well as help the mother breastfeed. Because breastfeeding employs the same anatomical structures used for speech, it can help strengthen a baby's jaw and facial muscles and lay the foundation for future communication skills.

Occupational therapy helps children develop and master skills for independence. It can also help with abilities that include opening and closing things, picking up and releasing toys of various sizes and shapes, stacking and building, manipulating knobs and buttons, experimenting with crayons. Therapists help children learn to feed and dress themselves, and teach skills for playing and interacting with other children.

Early intervention can prevent a child with Down syndrome from reaching a plateau at some point in development. The goal of early intervention programs is to enhance and accelerate development by building on a child's strengths and by strengthening those areas that are weaker, in all areas of development.

How can parents benefit from early intervention programs?

Programs of early intervention have a great deal to offer to parents in terms of support, encouragement, and information. The programs teach parents how to interact with their infant and toddler, how to meet their child's specific needs, and how to enhance development.

How do I sign up for early intervention services?

Each state has its own set of laws governing early intervention services. Parents can get a referral from their baby's doctor or find a local agency by visiting nectac.org. Once a referral has been made, the program staff must schedule and complete an initial evaluation within a specified time. Once the assessment is done, a caseworker is assigned to coordinate the various services for which the baby and family qualifies. Early intervention services are individualized to meet the specific needs of each individual baby. The caseworker, therapists, and family will determine the areas of focus and set goals based on the developmental milestones. These will be recorded in a document called the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).

Who pays for early intervention?

The evaluation to determine whether your child is eligible for early intervention is free if performed by a state authorized entity. No child deemed eligible can be denied services based on ability to pay, but insurance companies may be billed and/or a sliding scale payment may be required, depending on what state you reside in. Check with your state's early intervention center for information about authorized service providers and financial obligations. Frequently, there is little or no cost to parents for these services.

What happens after age 3?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which regulates early intervention, also mandates that local school districts provide a free, appropriate, public education for preschool-age children with disabilities starting at age 3, unless that would be inconsistent with state law or practice, or the order of any court, respecting the provision of public education to children between the ages of 3 and 5.

Originally featured on the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS.org) and reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.

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