Children with Down Syndrome often face physical challenges. This is because of the way their genetic condition affects their physiological development. One of the common hurdles for those with Down Syndrome is learning and mastering motor movements. Things that we take for granted—like balance, spatial awareness, or gripping a pen—can be challenging tasks for someone with Down’s Syndrome. Here we outline the common delays in motor development.
Right off the bat, it is important to stress that many children with Down Syndrome will only experience delays in motor development. This means that they will eventually learn basic motor skills, just at an older age.
Children and adults with Down Syndrome have marked physical differences, some of which have been used to explain why these children develop motor skills later than their peers. For example, a child with Down Syndrome will start walking between 13-48 months, which is later than the 9-17 months range for a typically-developing child.
Hypotonia (low muscle tone) and lax ligaments are present from birth and can contribute to motor development delays, however there is currently little research that completely validates this claim. Case in point: many adults with Down’s Syndrome who also exhibit hypotonia and lax ligaments have mastered motor skills, with some becoming professional athletes.
It’s unclear why there is a discrepancy in muscle strength between children with Down Syndrome and their peers. One possibility is that because these children take longer to learn to walk and master coordination and balance, they simply are not as active as their peers early-on. Some research points to the condition’s noted symptoms of hypotonia and lax ligaments as causes.
Outside of developmental and behavioral features, there are numerous physical symptoms that children with Down Syndrome can present. For example, there are increased risks for cardiovascular problems or heart defects, respiratory problems, heartburn (GERD), and an under-active thyroid. These physiological factors can be activity-limiting, which would account for decreased strength, coordination, and control.
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Practice Makes Perfect
Because children with Down’s Syndrome display delays in mastering motor movement, early intervention can help them get a jumpstart on standard movement milestones like crawling and walking. Motor development practice should start as soon as possible, even during infancy, to help ingrain spatial awareness, the proper use of mouth muscles, and dexterity. Repetition seems to be key, making the age-old adage of “Practice Makes Perfect” applicable.
In the end, it is necessary to stress that children with Down syndrome do eventually learn motor movement skills; the process is delayed rather than different. Practice that begins during infancy produces the best results for improved motor development. Despite the physical challenges Down Syndrome poses, there is not yet definitive proof that they are the sole source of motor development delays.
- down-syndrome.org: https://library.down-syndrome.org/en-us/news-update/02/4/movement-abilities-down-syndrome/
- Delays in Motor Development in Children with Down Syndrome: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4500597/