There is no single, standard treatment for Down syndrome. Treatments are based on each individual's physical and intellectual needs as well as his or her personal strengths and limitations.1 People with Down syndrome can receive proper care while living at home and in the community.
A child with Down syndrome likely will receive care from a team of health professionals, including, but not limited to, physicians, special educators, speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and social workers. All professionals who interact with children with Down syndrome should provide stimulation and encouragement.
People with Down syndrome are at a greater risk for a number of health problems and conditions than are those who do not have Down syndrome. Many of these associated conditions may require immediate care right after birth, occasional treatment throughout childhood and adolescence, or long-term treatments throughout life. For example, an infant with Down syndrome may need surgery a few days after birth to correct a heart defect; or a person with Down syndrome may have digestive problems that require a lifelong special diet. For more information, visit the What conditions or disorders are commonly associated with it? section.
Children, teens, and adults with Down syndrome also need the same regular medical care as those without the condition, from well-baby visits and routine vaccinations as infants to reproductive counseling and cardiovascular care later in life. Like other people, they also benefit from regular physical activity and social activities.
“Early intervention” refers to a range of specialized programs and resources that professionals provide to very young children with Down syndrome and their families. These professionals may include special educators, speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and social workers.
Research indicates that early intervention improves outcomes for children with Down syndrome.2,3 This assistance can begin shortly after birth and often continues until a child reaches age 3.4 After that age, most children receive interventions and treatment through their local school district.
Most children with Down syndrome are eligible for free, appropriate public education under federal law. Public Law 105-17 (2004): The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) makes it possible for children with disabilities to get free educational services and devices to help them learn as much as they can. Each child is entitled to these services from birth through the end of high school, or until age 21, whichever comes first. Most early intervention programs fall under this legislation.
The National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center, run by the U.S. Department of Education, provides information and resources for parents and families looking for early intervention programs. Visit http://www.nectac.org for more information. Additional early intervention resources are available at http://www.earlyinterventionsupport.com/diagnosis/List/Down-Syndrome.aspx , and at http://www.familyvoices.org .
The law also states that each child must be taught in the least restrictive environment that is appropriate. This statement does not mean that each child will be placed in a regular classroom. Instead, educators will work to provide an environment that best fits the child's needs and skills.
The following information may be helpful for those considering educational assistance programs for a child with Down syndrome:
The U.S. Department of Education funds the Parent Center Network, which provides resources, contacts, and assistance for parents and families trying to navigate special education programs. Visit http://www.parentcenternetwork.org/ for more information.
A variety of therapies can be used in early intervention programs and throughout a person's life to promote the greatest possible development, independence, and productivity. Some of these therapies are listed below.5
Some people with Down syndrome take amino acid supplements or drugs that affect their brain activity. However, many of the recent clinical trials of these treatments were poorly controlled and revealed adverse effects from these treatments. Since then, newer psychoactive drugs that are much more specific have been developed. No controlled clinical studies of these medications for Down syndrome have demonstrated their safety and efficacy, however.
Many studies of drugs to treat symptoms of dementia in Down syndrome have included only a few participants. The results of these studies have not shown clear benefits of these drugs, either.9,10,11 Similarly, studies of antioxidants for dementia in Down syndrome have shown that these supplements are safe, but not effective.12
More and more often, interventions for children with Down syndrome involve assistive devices—any type of material, equipment, tool, or technology that enhances learning or makes tasks easier to complete. Examples include amplification devices for hearing problems, bands that help with movement, special pencils to make writing easier, touchscreen computers, and computers with large-letter keyboards.
Parents and families of children with Down syndrome can connect with other families and people with Down syndrome from around the world to learn more and share information. The NICHD-led DS-Connect® is a safe and secure registry to help families and researchers identify similarities and differences in the symptoms and treatment of people with Down syndrome and guide future research. Learn more about DS-Connect®: The Down Syndrome Registry.
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