Saturday, May 30, 2009

Treadmill Training For Babies With Down Syndrome

Now that Matthew is a master crawler and showing more interest in walking, we are working on learning to walk. A few of the activities we've been doing to help him achieve his next goal include:

  • cruising along furniture
  • walking with two-hand support - We started out with me behind him and his hands up higher than his shoulders. Then we eventually switched to being in front of him, guiding him to take steps towards us while holding on to our fingers with his arms at shoulder level or lower. This second position is actually better as we notice that he has to rely on his stomach muscles more and learn to balance as he takes steps.
  • walking with his push walker (and lately, the laundry basket.) Watch the video of him pushing his walker at my blog post Have Walker, Will Travel.
  • walking with one-hand support

The book Gross Motor Skills in Children with Down Syndrome by Patricia C. Winders clearly explains these activities in more detail.

Last week, we started treadmill training. My dad had first found an article about it on yahoo news in 2007, about a month after Matthew was born. I had forgotten about it until about 2 weeks ago when I came across "Treadmill Training Helps Down Syndrome Babies Walk Months Earlier" on Then yesterday, Ruby's Mom at Ruby's Life blogged about a new tiny treadmill made just for babies.

ScienceDaily () -- Kinesiologsts developed a tiny treadmill to help infants with Downs Syndrome learn to balance themselves earlier. Typically, these children learn how to walk at 24 to 28 months, later than the 12 months for those without Downs. The treadmill exercise, used about 8 minutes a day, helps to reinforce the underlying pattern of coordination in the legs. This repetition helps build core muscles and support the drive to stand up. After the babies take eight to 10 steps without help, they are outfitted with light reflecting markers. The information from these markers is recorded on cameras, revealing gait, speed and width of their steps. Researchers show walking is occuring six months sooner with the treadmill.
To read the rest of the article, go to Baby Treadmill Kinesiologists Design Tiny Treadmill To Help Balance Baby Steps In Downs Syndrome Infants

Babies Can Start Treadmill Training As Early As 8 to 10 Months Of Age
Had I remembered the yahoo news article on treadmill training when Matthew was 8 months old, I don't think I would've started it that early with him. Matthew is not as motor-driven as other toddlers his age. He's more of an observer and a thinker. So I usually find that it helps him a lot if I let him watch me show him how something works several times before he tries it himself. My guess is that he would not have tolerated treadmill training when he was 8 months old. Every kid is different though. Other parents may be successful at starting treadmill training with their babies early.

Matthew's physical therapist (PT) supports treadmill training as a supplement to our therapy sessions and suggested that we have him walk on the treadmill with shoes sometimes and without shoes other times. She says this will help improve his leg and foot strength and balance. It takes a little bit more effort when walking with shoes than without. Also, the treadmill offers a different walking experience.

We don't have the mini treadmill that the ScienceDaily article mentions. The Bio-Medicine article states that these treadmills cost about $1,200 each. There should be some hospitals and Down Syndrome Organizations that might rent it out but we didn't explore that option. We have a regular treadmill that we set to the slowest pace and I hold him under his arms in front of me as he walks. The articles on treadmill training recommend 8 minutes of walking but Matthew is only able walk for a minute at a time. It works for me as I can only squat for a minute at a time. So while he's building his core muscles, I'm getting some much needed strength training too. Win-win! The plan is to slowly get him up to 8 minutes, following his lead on how much he wants to walk on the treadmill.

Is Walking Earlier Really Better?
The ScienceDaily article states that babies with Down syndrome learn to walk between 24 to 28 months without treadmill training. The milestone chart inAn Overview of the Development of Infants with Down Syndrome (0-5 years) on the Down Syndrome Online website shows the average age range for children with Down syndrome to walk alone or independently is 13 to 48 months. I know a little girl with DS, who is walking at 18 months, and a boy with DS who walked at 27 months. Both kids are doing great.

So will walking earlier advance a child's cognitive development, social skills development and language? Probably, simply because it gives the child mobility, the ability to explore his environment. What about crawling? Crawling is mobility too and seems to offer its own set of benefits that walking doesn't such as building trunk, arm, head, and neck strength, eye-hand coordination, coordination of both sides of the body, and stability. Don't we all catch up with each other later on? Kim Ayres at Ramblings of the Bearded One candidly commented on one of my previous posts, "if you look at any group of people, can you guess who were the early or late walkers? Once we get there, it makes no difference." So true. Everyone learns at their own pace, Down syndrome or not.

So why exactly are we doing treadmill training with Matthew? Simply because we can. I view it as just another tool, a very interesting one. Whether or not treadmill training does indeed make him walk sooner than later or improve the quality of his walk remains to be seen. I like to offer Matthew different opportunities to develop certain skills whenever possible. If he didn't like it, we wouldn't be doing it at all.

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Far Above Rubies said...

Ria, thank you so much. I'm going to get on this right away. I don't know why my therapist didn't mention this. Thanks again.

Far Above Rubies said...

Ria, do you mind of I post this on my site along with your baby's video on the threadmill?

Ria said...

Jasmine, I don't mind if you use my video. I appreciate you asking. :-)

To Love Endlessly said...

This is fantastic & the 1st time I have heard of treadmill training. My baby is 8 1/2 months old. How old is Matthew? I think it's fantastic that you do this with him. I need to look for a treadmill of our own. :-)

Brandie said...

We didn't have access to a treadmill, but when Goldie was 10 mos. we started "walking" her around the house. I would support her around her trunk and use my knees to push each leg forward. Once she started walking on her own we noticed a huge improvement in her vision. So, walking has really helped her in other ways, too.