Babies develop very rapidly during the first year, and future development builds upon this early foundation. This early development is particularly critical for babies born with Down Syndrome, and these babies can benefit greatly from early intervention. Early intervention for babies with Down Syndrome should start shortly after birth, according to Early Intervention Support. An early intervention team may include a speech therapist, occupational therapist and physical therapist. These professionals will help parents learn how best to stimulate their baby.
Stimulating Speech and Language
Babies with Down syndrome may not begin to speak until they are 2 or 3 years old, yet they can greatly benefit from pre-speech stimulation activities, according to the National Down Syndrome Society, "Early Intervention.” Things that may stimulate speech in babies with Down syndrome include breastfeeding, since the muscles used for breastfeeding are the same ones that will later facilitate speech. The skin-to-skin contact that breastfeeding provides is a form a sensory stimulation that is also beneficial. Speaking to your baby and encouraging him to imitate the sounds you make will help in development of speech and language, as will games like peek-a-boo. Using sign language can stimulate language development in a baby who is not yet ready to speak.
Stimulating Gross Motor Skills
Babies born with Down syndrome often have low muscle tone, or reduced strength, and loose ligaments, so developing gross motor skills is particularly important. In "Physical Therapy and Down Syndrome," the National Down Syndrome Society suggests placing a favorite toy just out of reach to encourage your baby to develop gross motor skills like crawling. Watch for the skills your baby enjoys and work on those. Babies who like to be on their bellies will learn to pivot, climb and crawl. If your baby likes to sit, help him to learn to get to a sitting position by himself. Watch your baby’s reactions to see which skills are too difficult or which he dislikes.
Stimulating Fine Motor Skills
Early skills for fine motor development include picking up and releasing toys, opening and closing things, stacking blocks and other toys, and manipulating objects. Babies learn these skills by playing with stacking and sorting toys, filling and emptying buckets of toys. According to "Early Intervention" by the National Down Syndrome Society, developing these skills is critical for future skill development and independence. Working with an occupational therapist can help babies with Down syndrome to learn these tasks, as well as others they will need as they grow, such as feeding and dressing.
Products that Aid Stimulation
There are commercially available products that will help stimulate babies with Down Syndrome. "Love and Learning" is a language and reading skills program for infants and toddlers with special needs. It combines DVDs, audio CDs, books and computer software to present letters, words and individual sounds. "Add-A-Bands" help babies with low muscle tone or lax ligaments to develop normally. They provide support at the knees and feet to help with positioning. Another tool to assist with low muscle tone is the "SureStep Orthosis" which provides stability when pulling to stand.