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Stepping Up Therapy Helps Kids With Down Syndrome Walk Earlier

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Nov. 6, 2001 -- Learning to walk can help children feel more independent and allow them to take that next step in life. But children born with Down syndrome generally walk about a year later than other kids.

Scientists have found a way to help these youngsters get up and move around a bit sooner, compared to what would be expected from typical physical therapy for kids with Down syndrome. The trick is to train their parents to use an in-home miniature treadmill to get these kids walking by an earlier age.

The researchers enrolled 30 infants and their families into a study when the children were able to sit on their own for at least 30 seconds. Each infant then received either physical therapy alone at least every other week or physical therapy plus stepping practice on a motorized treadmill -- specially engineered for this purpose.

The study results are published in the Nov. 5 issue of Pediatrics.

The stepping practice was done at home, five days a week, for eight minutes a day. Parents were trained to support their child while the child stepped on the treadmill. When the treadmill was turned on, the infants' feet were moved backward and tended to cause infants to step forward. Take note, however, that these were specialized treadmills, and the speed was set at less than one-half-mile per hour -- much slower than you can set your normal treadmill at home.

The infants that trained on the treadmills learned to walk with help and independently much faster than the group treated with only traditional physical therapy. The treadmill kids walked on average about 10 weeks after starting the program compared to 14 weeks for the other children.

The researchers encourage parents and doctors to consider the use of this stepping practice as a way of helping infants with Down syndrome walk before their second birthday.

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