I was recently asked if treadmill training helped Matthew take steps on his own. Matthew was born with hypotonia. His physical therapist (PT) had remarked that it was mild from what she has seen in her many years of experience. Matthew started taking more than 3 independent steps when he was 21 months old. According to the article An overview of the development of infants with Down syndrome (0-5 years), children with Down syndrome begin to walk independently between 13 to 48 months old. According to the same article, kids without Down syndrome walk independently in the age range 9 to 17 months old.
To be honest, I think it was more of a combination of things we did that helped. Not to mention, Matthew was very self-motivated too. He giggled everytime he took a few steps without support, as seen in the video on a previous post "Walking". At the time he started walking, he was receiving physical therapy twice a month, 45 minutes to 1 hour per session, at home.
We tried treadmill training for about 2 months starting when Matthew was 19 months old. I have a video of him on the treadmill on a previous post "Treadmill Training for Babies with Down Syndrome. At 19 months, Matthew was already able to push a sturdy push toy several feet forward but he still needed to improve his stability and balance. He could also pull to stand and cruise sideways holding on to furniture.
Without a push toy, we had him walking with 2-hand support (hands above his shoulders). We had him walk barefoot on our front lawn and in our house. We also had him walk with shoes on. We walked up and down a 30-degree slope on the one side of our house to help improve his leg strength.
When he felt more stable, we tried to switch holding his hands in front of him instead of above his shoulders. Then we gradually decreased support, going from 2 hands to just 1.
We keyed in to what motivated him. He loved balls (and still does). Showing him how to "kick" an air-filled, light ball by walking into it (with hand support of course) motivated him to move forward.
Our cat, Yuri, also motivated him. I always had to be careful that he didn't grab a handful of fur.
There were also a select number of toys that motivated Matthew to walk from point A to point B on his own. But I believe his biggest motivator Bill or I. He got the most enjoyment out of walking to and from Bill and I.
Matthew has hypotonia. It causes laxity in the joints (hips, knees and ankles) that may make it more difficult to walk without support. I'm thankful Matthew didn't have much issue with that. His ankles rolled inward slightly but they were strong enough that Matthew felt stable enough on his feet to walk. He did not require orthotics.
When he did start walking, his physical therapist looked for compensatory movement patterns paying close attention to his gait, trunk position and overall posture. This article "Physical Therapy for Children with Down Syndrome" by Patricia C. Winders provides a lot of good information on physical therapy and explains compensatory movement patterns.
Did Treadmill Training Help?
I think it might have just a tiny bit since we didn't do it often enough. I tried to get up to 8 minutes per day but the most he ever wanted to be on it was close to 2 minutes. It might have helped more if we did it more frequently during the day and added more play elements to the activity to keep his interest. It was worth doing though just as an additional exercise for him.
If it didn't interest him at all, we wouldn't have tried it. Forcing him to do something he doesn't like would only teach him how to get out of doing it. Ultimately, I think it's the strongest motivating factor that will help - with most milestones. Of course, it is also important to look at and address any physical attributes (tone, posture, joint laxity, overall strength) that might be an obstacle to walking independently.
Also, some kids might just need more time to gain the confidence for this awesome milestone.
Question For Readers
Did you try treadmill training? Did it help your child?
Treadmill Training for Babies with Down Syndrome