What Are the Treatments for Down Syndrome?

If your child is born with Down syndrome, you want to be able to make informed choices about treatments that can help your little one thrive.

Because Down syndrome affects everyone who has it in different ways, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. But doctors do know that the earlier children get care, the more likely they are to live up to their full potential.

Your child may need help in different ways, from crawling and walking to talking and learning how to be social. She may also need extra attention in school. And she may have medical issues that need regular care.

You’ll likely rely on a team of providers, including your child’s main doctor, and maybe specialists like ear doctors, heart doctors, and others. Your child may also work with physical, occupational, and speech therapists.

Early Intervention

Most states offer programs that provide a range of services for children up to 3 years old. These programs can boost your child’s physical and mental growth. They typically have therapists and teachers who are specially trained to help kids learn a variety of skills, such as how to:

  • Feed and dress themselves
  • Roll over, crawl, and walk
  • Play and be around other people
  • Think and solve problems
  • Talk, listen, and understand others

Help in School

Many kids with Down syndrome go to their neighborhood schools along with all the other kids. This can be great not only for your child, but for the other children as well.

Your child also has the right to get services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which starts at age 3. IDEA requires public schools to offer the best education they can, no matter what challenges a person faces.

As part of this effort, you’ll work with the school to develop an individualized education program (IEP). This helps make sure your child gets support that suits her needs. It may include things like working with a reading specialist or speech therapist.

While public schools work great for many children, there other types of schools that focus more on the needs of kids with Down syndrome. Your child’s doctors, therapists, and teachers can help figure out which is best for her.

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Medical Treatment

Some health problems are more common in kids with Down syndrome. Many children don’t have them, but if yours does, you can get treatment for:

Hearing loss. Many children with Down syndrome have hearing loss in one or both ears. Because of that, your child will likely have regular visits with an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor to catch any issues early on. Sometimes hearing problems are caused by fluid build-up in the ears. In that case, ear tubes -- which many children get if they have constant ear infections--can help.

Problems seeing. Issues with eyesight are also common. Your child will have regular check-ups with an eye doctor and may need glasses, surgery, or other treatment. It’s important to keep up with ear and eye exams, because problems seeing and hearing can lead to delays in learning and talking.

Heart problems. About half the babies born with Down syndrome have a problem with either the shape of their heart or how it works. Some conditions are more serious than others and require surgery. In other cases, your child may need to take medicine.

Obstructive sleep apnea. This is a condition where a person’s breathing stops and restarts many times as they sleep. Typically, a child with Down syndrome gets checked for sleep apnea by age 4. During an overnight sleep test, doctors check to see if your child’s breathing stops and restarts. If so, she may need to wear a mask while sleeping. The mask is attached to a machine that helps her breathe normally. Sometimes, larger-than-normal tonsils and adenoids cause sleep apnea. In this case, your doctor may suggest surgery to remove them.

Leukemia. Children with Down syndrome are at a 10- to 20-fold increase for developing this blood cancer. But the risk is still at 2%. Leukemia is curable.

Thyroid . Thyroid disorders are more prevalent in children with Down syndrome. 

Other medical problems. Your child may also have other less common issues that need treatment, such as:

  • Blockage in the intestine. Some babies with Down syndrome get Hirschsprung’s disease, where part of the intestine gets blocked. This is treated with surgery that removes part of the intestine.
  • Infections. Babies with Down syndrome also have weaker immune systems, so they may get sick more often. There’s no treatment for this, but it means that getting vaccines on time is even more important.
  • Thyroid problems . The thyroid makes hormones your body need. In kids with Down syndrome, it sometimes doesn’t make enough. If that happens, your child will take medicine to help.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 24, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

KidsHealth: “Down Syndrome” and “What’s an IEP?”

Mayo Clinic: “Down Syndrome” and “Obstructive Sleep Apnea.”

March of Dimes: “Down Syndrome.”

CDC: “Facts about Down Syndrome.”

Center for Parent Information and Resources: “Overview of Early Intervention.”

Down Syndrome Education International: "Health and Medical Issues."

 

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