Development is a continuous process that begins at conception and proceeds stage by stage in an orderly sequence. There are specific milestones in each of the four areas of development (gross and fine motor abilities, language skills, social development, and self-help skills) that serve as prerequisites for the stages that follow. Most children are expected to achieve each milestone at a designated time, also referred to as a "key age," which can be calculated in terms of weeks, months or years. Because of specific challenges associated with Down syndrome, babies will likely experience delays to reach the milestones, like sitting, standing, and walking. Development of speech and language abilities may take longer than expected and may not occur as fully as parents would like. However, they will achieve each of the same milestones as other children, just on their own timetable. In monitoring the development of a child with Down syndrome, it is more useful to look at the sequence of milestones achieved, rather than the age at which the milestone is reached.
Since children with Down syndrome typically face delays in certain areas of development, early intervention (EI) is highly recommended. It can begin anytime after birth, but the sooner it starts, the better. Early intervention is a systematic program of therapy, exercises and activities designed to address developmental delays that may be experienced by children with Down syndrome or other disabilities. These services are mandated by a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) . The law requires that states provide early intervention services for all children who qualify, with the goal of enhancing the development of infants and toddlers and helping families understand and meet the needs of their children. The most common early intervention services for babies with Down syndrome are physical therapy, speech and language therapy, and occupational therapy.
In South Carolina, BabyNet offers early intervention services to eligible children under 3 years of age at no cost to families. EI services are to be provided in natural environments for the child, meaning generally in their home or childcare. Once eligible, professionals work in partnership through the family to develop the initial Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) to help children meet developmental milestones with specific gross motor, fine motor, speech, cognitive, and social and emotional goals.
Goals of Early Intervention
Improve development for the child with social and educational gains
Coordinate health, medical, psychological, and therapy services
Educate families on their child’s delay and how to help them
Reduce feelings of isolation, stress and frustration that families may experience by offering networking and social events
Recognize and isolate negative behaviors and help to alleviate by introducing positive behavior strategies and interventions
Help children with disabilities grow up to become productive, independent individuals
Reduce future costs of special education, rehabilitation and health care needs.