The Role of Occupational Therapy in Persons with Down Syndrome

Although October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, occupational therapy practitioners work with this population every day of the year. Down syndrome, a genetic condition that alters the course of development and can cause cognitive delays.

Occupational therapy practitioners work with persons with Down syndrome to help them master skills for independence through self-care like feeding and dressing, fine and gross motor skills, school performance, and play and leisure activities. Occupational therapy practitioners guide individuals with Down syndrome and their families to help them reach their potential throughout the life span. Occupational therapy intervention should begin as soon as a diagnosis of Down syndrome is established, and should continue throughout the individual’s life.

During infancy, occupational therapy practitioners can help mothers whose children are having feeding problems because of weak muscles in their cheeks, tongue, and lips. During early childhood, therapy can focus on mastering motor skills for independence, focusing on low muscle tone, loose ligaments at the joints, and visual and auditory deficits.

An occupational therapy practitioner can suggest positioning or adaptations that might help the child become more independent.

School-aged children with Down syndrome benefit from an occupational therapy practitioner’s ability to address self-care skills like zipping a jacket, and fine and gross motor skills like cutting with scissors or completing multistep classroom routines to facilitate participation in school activities.

Occupational therapy practitioners can also assist in the classroom by enhancing the child’s communication skills through printing, handwriting, and keyboarding. Other issues addressed are adaptations to the classroom—such as the position of desks and chairs—for optimal performance, based on the child’s physical abilities.

Adults with Down syndrome benefit from occupational therapy in finding and retaining productive work, learning independent living skills, and participating in active recreation for health maintenance.

Occupational therapy can play an important role in assisting individuals with Down syndrome from diagnosis to adulthood. “Occupational therapy helps individuals with Down syndrome by creating programs to develop and utilize skills across the lifespan,“[This enables] them to live life to its fullest.”


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