A Developmental Boost for Your Child with Down Syndrome (or Without)

When it comes to my children — 2 of whom happen to share identical genes including an extra 21st chromosome (aka. Down syndrome) — I’ll do anything to help them be happy, succeed on their own terms and to clear a peaceful path for them in life. But their path — like every one’s — is bound to be a little different, especially given their special needs. That doesn’t mean I can’t facilitate their development just like and maybe even more than I do for my very special (but not special needs) daughter.
I”m talking about doing relatively simple, if not a tad odd things to help my kids achieve milestones and skills that I was told would be late, elusive, impossible.  I never believe the naysayers.  I believe in my children!  So…  at less than 6-months-old, before my babies could walk, crawl or roll-over, let alone jump, I bought a full-sized trampoline and put it inside my house so we could use it daily and year-round!
Why, you ask?  Because the Boys’ Early Intervention Physical Therapist told me that my babies could improve their balance and strengthen the muscles in their feet — both critically needed for walking — by moving about on a dynamic surface. She suggested giving them belly- and crawl-time on a large mattress… using extreme caution monitoring the edges to prevent falls.  I gave this some thought and decided there’s nothing more dynamic than a trampoline’s surface. So I bought one that was only 18″ off the ground and 8′ round surrounded by a safety net with a closable entry.  Then I assembled it on my indoor balcony right outside the kids’ bedrooms. The shorter than usual height was critical for indoor use — fitting well within our standard 8′ ceilings — and being well-placed and large enough (including a high weight limit) to fit several children plus adults, made it easy for everyone to use together multiple times daily. The Physical Therapist used it during her sessions too. And, we had belly time on it every day and read bedtime stories on it every night. We had naps and sleepovers on it.  We belly-dragged and crawled on it.  Laid on our backs and bounced our butts up and down.  Laid on our bellies and bounced.  Kneeled on all fours and bounced.  Rocked and bounced, kneeled and bounced, sat and bounced and stood and bounced.  You name it, we bounced.  Eventually, we even did fancy tricks bouncing.  Yes, even The Boys learned how — jumping up and bouncing down to our butts, then up to our feet and down to our butts again.  You know the move?  We did the same bouncing to our knees.  And guess what? With all that bouncing going on, My Boys rolled over at 6 months, crawled at 10 months and walked at 14 months. Might they have done the same without the trampoline? Maybe! Maybe not.  But I’m a take action Mom and the action I took absolutely helped them develop better balance, stronger muscles, increased stamina and a love for jumping… all good!  And that trampoline is still helping them with these skills today. 

Interestingly, the prominent placement in our house definitely facilitated the use of that trampoline.  Once relinquished to the not-quite-finished basement playroom, it’s been used less often and that’s not good.  So, I’m in the process of rearranging my home to find another in-the-way spot for our trampoline.  So far, my husband hasn’t agreed to swapping the great room couch with the trampoline.  But, I’m not giving up.  NEVER give up! 

Recognizing that not everybody has room or wants a very conspicuous in-house trampoline — or if you decide this is just not your gig — try putting a mattress on the floor or in a roll-away trundle along the length of your child’s bed.  At the very least, your child will have to walk across it to get into and out of bed every night and every morning, it provides cushioning and a safer distance in case of night-time or jump-time falls and it’s a great place for Mom to grab some shut-eye during those middle of the night wake-ups.  All the while, your kids are benefiting through improved balance and increased lower body strength from the dynamic surface.  

Trying to sell the idea to a hesitant spouse or your internal nay-sayer?  At one point in our learning to crawl, stand and walk process, I contemplated laying wall-to-wall mattresses across their bedroom floor.  Doesn’t that sound fun?  Almost like a trampoline room!  They’d have nowhere to go to avoid the dynamic surface and they could literally jump and sleep wherever they want.  No cribs or beds necessary, just check your shoes at the door!  A little crazy, sure!  But from here, an indoor trampoline is an easy step comparatively speaking. LOL

For my now older and already-walking children with Down syndrome who have a slightly weaker gait, slower run and sometimes compromised balance, we still use the trampoline but we also challenge them with barefoot beach walking (walking in the sand). This — which runners have known for a long time and I know, ’cause I used to be one — is also really good for strengthening leg and feet muscles and improving balance.  While being a lifelong resident of Long Island gives us seemingly never-ending access to sand and beach, the first time I dropped My baby Boys in the sand they hated the sensation of sand between their toes.  How weird is that?  Oddly, to a lesser degree, they start every new beach season with some trepidation.  Acknowledging that their discomfort can seriously discourage beach walking, we found that feeding and chasing a pack of seagulls made them instantaneously forget all about the “yucky” feel of the sand on  their feet.  To this day, a big bag of bread or Tostitos still keeps the birds coming around and My Boys on the run… sand be damned. If you’re landlocked, fear not, for those colder days when the beach is too chilly even for us, we came up with this solution.  We sectioned off the part of our back yard surrounding the kids’ play equipment,  laid down weed prevention sheets and dumped a thick layer of sand on top.  It’s a great padding for falls and there’s no avoiding it.  The Boys have to negotiate the sand to get to the slide, climbing net and treehouse. And, on any given day if that’s not enough motivation, kicking around a lightweight bouncy ball in the sand often does the trick. Even in sneakers, it does wonders for their balance and lower body muscle strength. 

My Boys are big, healthy and physically active 5-year-olds. They’re getting stronger and improving their balance every day. Meanwhile, I keep trying to come up with workable activities and methodologies to facilitate their development physically, intellectually and emotionally.  As such, I plan to make this a series of posts sharing some of the proactive, out-of-the-box solutions we’ve implemented here in my home to facilitate The Boys’ development in all areas and encourage their participation in activities they find less than desirable but are key to their ongoing development. Maybe one of these tactics will be just right for your home and your child’s developmental needs.  Or, maybe it’ll get you thinking outside the box to help push your child’s development. 

If you’ve come up with something interesting, please share!  I’m always looking for ideas to help get my creative juices flowing fast and wild with ideas that boost the ongoing development of my children with Down syndrome. I’d love to hear what you’ve done to benefit your child’s physical, intellectual and emotional development.  What traditional or non-traditional methods, activities and tools/toys have you tried to help your child with special needs be all they can be? 


About Maggie

I'm a stay-at-home mother of 3 children including a 15-year-old daughter, the Old Soul, and 11-year-old identical twin boys who've been blessed with an extra 21st chromosome (aka: Down Syndrome). I happily spend my time doing all that I can do -- breaking the proverbial box wide open -- to foster my children's development and then sharing what I learn with you through this blog.
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