Early Intervention for Babies and Children with Down Syndrome

Children with Down syndrome experience developmental delays that begin in infancy. But according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), research shows that early intervention can make a big difference. In fact, early intervention may be key to improving health outcomes for kids with Down syndrome. Let’s take a closer look at how early intervention works, and the difference it may make for your child.

What’s Early Intervention?

According to the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), early intervention is a systemic program of exercises and therapy that can address developmental delays. These activities may help babies with Down syndrome reach development milestones sooner—like crawling, walking, or talking.

When Should My Child Start Early Intervention?

NDSS recommends starting early intervention as soon as possible after birth. But it’s never too late to start. Federal law requires all states to provide early intervention programs to babies and children who need them.

The programs usually continue until the child is three years old. Some states have early intervention programs that last until kindergarten. In states where early intervention programs end at age three, federal law requires, in most cases, that states provide appropriate public education to pre-school age children who have disabilities.

What Are Specific Early Intervention Therapies?

Early intervention may include a number of areas of focus:

Physical therapy

 Physical therapy, which focuses on a child’s motor development skills, is one form of early intervention. Physical therapy can help a child with Down syndrome gain better head control and improve their ability to pull up to a seated position (with help).

Physical therapy can also help prevent certain movement patterns that people with Down syndrome may develop that can lead to functional problems if they aren’t corrected.

Speech and language therapy

Speech and language therapy is another part of early intervention. A baby with Down syndrome may not say a first word until age two or three. But early intervention may help babies say their first word sooner, as early as 12 months, in some cases. There are many pre-language skills that must be acquired first, that can be improved through early intervention, such as:

  • Imitating and echoing sounds
  • Turn-taking skills
  • Visual, auditory, and tactile skills
  • Oral motor skills
  • Cognitive skills

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy as an early intervention can help kids with Down’s syndrome develop skills for independence. For example, occupational therapy can help with skills like:

  • Opening and closing things
  • Picking up and dropping toys
  • Stacking and building
  • Moving buttons and knobs
  • Drawing with crayons
  • Feeding and dressing themselves
  • Learning to play with friends

Learn More

Early intervention can help prevent kids with Down syndrome from leveling off in their development. These programs work to enhance development by building on each child’s strengths.

Early intervention can also offer parents support and information for their child with Down syndrome. The programs teach parents and other caregivers how to interact with their child, meet specific needs, and improve development.

To reap these benefits, it’s important to request early intervention services. Each state has its own laws that govern early intervention programs. You can request a referral from your child’s doctor, or visit the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center to find a local agency to assist you.