The early years of life are a critical time in a child’s development.
Children with Down syndrome typically face delays in some areas of development, so early intervention is highly recommended. It can begin any time after birth, but the sooner it starts, the better. Development is a continuous process that begins at conception and proceeds stage by stage in an orderly sequence. There are specific milestones that serve as prerequisites for the stages that follow. Most children are expected to achieve each milestone at a designated time, but because of specific challenges associated with Down syndrome, these timelines will likely be delayed. They will achieve all of the same milestones as other children, just on their own timetable.
Early Intervention is a systematic program of therapy, exercises and activities designed to address developmental delays experienced by children with Down syndrome or other disabilities. It includes support and services that help children and their families. These services are mandated by a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The law requires that states provide early intervention services for all children who qualify, with the goal of enhancing the development of infants and toddlers and helping families understand and meet the needs of their children.
Contacting the Early Intervention office will start an evaluation process. Eligibility for Early Intervention services is not based on the financial status of a child or family, and is only based on the findings of the evaluation. Once the assessment is done, a Service Coordinator (or case worker) is assigned to coordinate the various services for which the baby and family qualify. Early intervention services are individualized to meet the specific needs of each baby. The caseworker, therapists and family will determine areas of focus and set goals based on developmental milestones. These will be recorded in a document called the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). This is the guiding document of the child’s journey through the Early Intervention system, and it details all of the services and supports that the child will receive.
Early Intervention Service Coordination
Human Services Center
1430 Dekalb Street
P.O. Box 311
Norristown, PA 19404-0311
By phone: 610-277-7176
By fax: 610-278-6214
By email: [email protected]
Physical therapy focuses on motor development. For example, during the first three to four months of life, an infant is expected to gain head control and the ability to pull to a sitting position (with help) with no head lag and enough strength in the upper torso to maintain an erect posture. Appropriate physical therapy may assist a baby with Down syndrome, who may have low muscle tone, in achieving this milestone. As your child progresses you may even find yourself doing treadmill therapy!
Physical Therapy Resources:
Speech and language therapy is a critical component of Early Intervention. Even though babies with Down syndrome may not say their first words until 2 or 3 years of age, there are many pre-speech and pre-language skills that they must acquire before they can learn to form words. A speech and language therapist can help with these and other skills, including providing information on breastfeeding/feeding.
Speech Therapy Resources
Occupational therapy helps children develop and master skills for independence. Occupational therapy can help with abilities such as opening and closing things, picking up and releasing toys of various sizes and shapes, stacking and building, manipulating knobs and buttons, experimenting with crayons etc. Therapists also help children learn to feed and dress themselves and teach them skills for playing and interacting with other children.
Occupational Therapy Resources
The National Down Syndrome Society also has great resources on each of these therapies: