About Down Syndrome
Down Syndrome occurs because of a chromosomal abnormality present at birth and is the most common cause of intellectual disability (a slower development of thinking and learning skills). It affects 1 in every 860 live births. The name comes from the 19th Century English physician Dr Langdon Down, who was the first to describe and record common characteristics of people with this condition.
I remember as a third year Speech Pathology student I had the great opportunity of working alongside an Occupational Therapist at Seton College in Queensland, providing therapy to children with Down Syndrome. Together we collaborated and worked jointly to run group therapy sessions for teenage girls with Down Syndrome. This was one of the most valuable and rewarding experiences of my undergraduate degree seeing the progress and impact that both Speech Therapy and Occupational Therapy had on this particular group of students.
What is Down Syndrome?
Down Syndrome (also known as Trisomy 21) is a chromosomal disorder occurring as a result of a third copy of chromosome 21. At conception a child inherits 46 chromosomes in total: 23 from the mother and 23 from the father; however, a child born with Down Syndrome inherits 47 chromosomes instead of the usual 46. Children with Down Syndrome present with distinctive physical features which can vary from child to child. In addition to the distinguishing physical characteristics associated with Down Syndrome, people living with this condition may present with a developmental delay usually related to motor, intellectual and cognitive ability.
Physical and Developmental characteristics
People with Down Syndrome present with various physical characteristics including a flat facial profile, strabismus (where the eyes are not properly aligned), smaller sized ears, short extremities, oval palate and an extended tongue length.
Other characteristics include hypotonia (low muscle tone) where babies may seem especially “floppy”. Hypotonia may lead to difficulties achieving motor developmental milestones such as sitting, crawling and walking. Low muscle tone may also contribute to problems with early feeding and oral motor coordination.
Speech, Language and Cognition
Children with Down Syndrome learn in different ways, but most will have some level of intellectual disability. Each child is unique, so the stage and extent to which the delay may occur varies from child to child. As a result of hypotonia, children with Down Syndrome may have motor speech difficulties whereby sounds may be harder to articulate and produce. In particular, the acquisition of language (expressive and/or receptive) may be delayed thus affecting overall communication.
Speech Therapy for Children with Down Syndrome
Speech Pathologists will generally conduct a language assessment (using either formal or informal tests) to look into each child’s strengths and weaknesses. The Speech Pathologist will then decipher communication goals to enhance a child’s participation in everyday activities. For any child with a disability, early intervention is imperative towards achieving optimal communication.
To find out more about how speech therapy can help people with Down Syndrome or to make an appointment with one of our speech pathologists contact us.