Down syndrome occurs in about 1 in 700 births. Children with
typical development learn to walk independently at about 12 months of age.
Those with Down syndrome typically learn to take independent steps at 24-28
months. Getting infants walking is critical
because this can delay the emergence other skills such as social skills, motor
skills, advancement of perception and spatial cognition.
According to the Center for Motor
Development at the University of Michigan, babies with Down Syndrome can learn
to walk earlier and better using a treadmill. In
the study, 30 infants were randomly assigned lower intensity, generalized treadmill
training, or high intensity, individualized treadmill training. The exercise
therapy was implemented in the homes by their parents. The exercise therapy was
used as a supplement to physical therapy. High intensity training included
increasing the treadmill belt speed, using longer durations, and adding light
weights to the ankles, with intensity tailored to each child. The parent sat on
a bench that straddled the treadmill and held the infant as the child took
steps on the treadmill. The duration of the exercise therapy was for eight
minutes a day, five days a week for three months.
Dale Ulrich, the director of the
Center for Motor Development at the University of Michigan suggests if
children with Down Syndrome are able to walk earlier and better, they are
able to explore their environment and learn about the world around them. He
also agrees that walking is a critical factor in the development of other
domains. Treadmills are about $1,200 each. The hope is that more hospitals and
Down syndrome parent organizations will rent the equipment to parents.