Strengthening motor skills is essential to the development of any child. These movements and capabilities are responsible for a child’s ability to get around in this world and take care of themselves. Since autism is a spectrum disorder, the abilities of one child can be vastly different from those of another. Understanding how autism affects motor skillsin a child will help you decide how best to assist them.
The cognitive abilities of individuals on the autism spectrum will vary from child to child. While some children may show sensitivity to certain sounds, colors, or situations, others may not. Individuals who are more sensitive to certain stimuli may have trouble developing various motor skills.
Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills refer to the ability to use one’s hands and fingers in a controlled manner to carry out a task. This entails using small manipulative objects, holding items, and effectively using a writing or eating utensil. In some cases, individuals with autism may need a bit more practice to develop this skill, but it will come eventually.
Gross Motor Skills
Gross motor skills refer to the larger movements we make and the way we manage our appendages. Individuals with autism may face obstacles when running, climbing, or balancing. Developing these skills takes practice, strength building, and, in some cases, occupational and physical therapy.
Chariot Innovationshas spent a significant amount of time studying and understanding the benefits of equine therapy in building strength, control, and balance. We have created hippotherapy simulator equipment to help individuals develop these skills simultaneously. The MiraColt allows slight to serious exercise depending on the needs of the patient.
When determining how autism affects motor skills,you must remember that it will look different for everyone. Some cases may appear similar, but each person will have individual experiences and hurdles to overcome. Patience is key in developing all types of skills, including motor skills.
The MiraColt™ is not a replacement for a horse. Discovering and maximizing the synergistic benefits of having both the horse and the MiraColt as part of therapeutic intervention for clients, has been a game changer in delivering outcomes for centers like the ROCK. Dr. Nancy Krenek, shares a couple of those benefits.
In March 2021, Chariot Innovations was privileged to have a donor give Rise School and Vine School in Texas a MiraColt each. The schools help children with disabilities in an inclusive environment. The impact of the devices in both schools has been immediate and a great joy to follow.
Not only will implementing mobility training exercises help with balance, strength, and flexibility, but it will also help in avoiding falling or collapsing. As we age, we move less in general. It becomes harder—our bones grow more brittle and the things that started aching in our thirties… let’s just say they didn’t improve. There are going to be some inevitable losses; however, there is much that can be done in the way of fall prevention exercises for the elderly. These activities can not only retain the strength you do have, but hopefully, help you regain some.
Chairs are a great tool to exercise with, as you can avoid needing a gym membership or a lot of equipment. To start, you can practice moving from sitting to standing and vice versa. Be sure your chair is sturdy and supportive and use the parts of it to help you raise and lower until your legs are strong enough to bring you up and down with one hand and then none. Do at least 10 repetitions and increase with strength built over time.
Using a countertop to anchor yourself, ensure you’re standing with good posture. Once you feel firmly planted, bring your knees up to your chest one at a time (march in place). You should move slowly to make certain that you’re using your muscles to raise up and not momentum. Moreover, you don’t want to lose your balance. Start with 10 raises per leg, see how you feel, and then increase.
Establish yourself at the countertop again for both back and side leg raises. For either direction, start as you did in marching with good posture and proper footing. Again, exercises need to be done slowly and with intention. Ten repetitions per side using your muscles, not your momentum. For back leg raises, face the counter and raise your leg back without bending the knee. With side leg raises, again face the counter and raise your leg out to the side, keeping your toes pointed toward the counter and your legs straight.
Balancing on one leg at a time is a great way to build strength in your core and limbs while gaining control over your body. Using the counter, you may need to start by holding on and lifting one foot at a time barely off of the floor. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds per leg and do several reps. As you progress, you may start bending your leg at the knee while facing the counter and try not to put your hands on it. Finally, you can stand next to a wall for support, and without using your hands, stand on one leg at a time.
To target the same muscle groups and skills that you’d be strengthening using these exercises, consider horseback riding (hippotherapy) as well. Chariot Innovationshas created a hippotherapy simulator that provides the benefits of horseback riding from the comfort of a therapy office as well as with support from a professional. Implementing these fall prevention exercises for the elderly should allow you to live your golden years to the fullest without unnecessary weakness.
People with Down syndrome can experience delays in physical growth, mild to a moderate cognitive disability, as well as having characteristic facial features. Knowledge of this condition and its levels of ability will allow you to better understand how to support individuals with Down syndrome. About 6,000 babies are born in the U.S. each year with Down Syndrome. It is the most common chromosomal disorder. There are many physical therapy considerations for children with Down syndromethat can help build strength, coordination, and balance.
Types of Down Syndrome
When the sperm or egg cell are developing, abnormal cell division occurs. This results in Down syndrome. There are three different types of the disorder to be aware of.
The most common type of Down syndrome is trisomy 21. 95 percent of the time, Down syndrome is caused by this, and it affects about 5,000 babies each year. Instead of the usual pairing of each chromosome, there is a third copy in each cell in the body.
Translocation Down Syndrome
This type of Down syndrome is caused by the rearranging of chromosome material. Just like trisomy 21, there are three number 21 chromosomes, however, one of those is attached to another chromosome rather than being separate.
Mosaic Down Syndrome
This is the rarest form of Down syndrome. People with Mosaic Down syndrome have a mixture of cells. Some have two copies of chromosome 21 like the general public and others have three. It’s also known as mosaicism. This type can be more difficult to detect as only one to two percent of individuals have it. The cell mixture offering some normal and some trisomy 21 in the body shows fewer characteristics and leaves many undiagnosed with this condition.
Detecting Down Syndrome
Down syndrome is often done during pregnancy with prenatal testing. The diagnostic test, Chorionic villus sampling (CVS), can identify this condition by retrieving cells from the placenta to analyze the fetus’s chromosomes. It’s usually performed between ten and thirteen weeks of pregnancy (within the first trimester).
Test to detect Down syndrome can also be done after birth using karyotype, which is a chromosomal analysis. This diagnostic test determines the number of chromosomes in the cell nuclei as well as their visual appearance. Additionally, physical features of Down syndrome can often be noted visually after birth.
Is It a Disability?
Due to the presence of the extra chromosome, the way the child’s brain and body develop is affected. This can lead to developmental delays. It may also cause intellectual disability and increase the individual’s risk for particular medical issues. Down syndrome affects about one in every seven hundred children and is the most common genetically caused intellectual disability.
Behaviors of Down Syndrome
It’s been noted that children with Down syndrome tend to be very empathetic to the feelings of others around them. If someone close to them is experiencing strong feelings such as anger or anxiety, those feelings can be picked up by the child. It’s recommended that positive reinforcement is implemented for good behaviors and unexpected or poor behavior is ignored.
Other behaviors associated with this genetic disorder include speech and language development delays, problems holding attention, difficulty sleeping, tantrums or stubbornness, cognitive delays, and prolonged issues when toilet training. Many of these behaviors will show in all children as they begin to grow and learn.
Is it Heredity?
Though Down syndrome is a genetic condition, it’s not usually hereditary. The cell divisions for trisomy 21 and mosaicism are random and not inherited from either parent. However, one third of people with translocation Down syndrome inherited it. That’s only about 1 percent of people with Down syndrome. It is possible for both parents to carry the translocation Down syndrome gene without any symptoms or signs to indicate it.
What Are the Statistics?
When furthering your understanding of Down syndrome and its types, it’s essential to know the statistics surrounding it. Down syndrome is not preventable, however, it’s ideal to know the risks and have as much time to plan as possible.
Most Babies Born with Down Syndrome
In regard to maternal age, 80 percent of children with trisomy 21 or mosaic Down syndrome are born with mothers under thirty-five years old. However, these numbers are slightly skewed—younger women have more babies so the number of Down syndrome cases is inevitably higher.
Most at Risk Age Group for Having Babies with Down Syndrome
Mothers older than thirty-five years old are more likely to have a baby affected by this condition. The National Down Syndrome Society states that women thirty-five years of age or older have approximately a one in three-hundred-fifty chance of having a baby with Down syndrome. By age forty, this number increases to one in one hundred. Finally, one in thirty babies conceived at age forty-five will have Down syndrome.
Likelihood of Having Multiple Children with Down Syndrome
There is a risk of having an additional child with trisomy 21 Down syndrome. If a woman has a child with this genetic condition, the likelihood that she will conceive a second child with Down syndrome is about one in one hundred before age forty. For individuals with a child with translocation Down syndrome, there is about a 10-15 percent risk if the mother is the carrier and a three percent if the father is the carrier.
Variations in Features
Some of the common physical features that make Down syndrome identifiable are:
A flattened bridge of the nose and face
Upward slanting, almond-shaped eyes
Smaller ears, hands, and feet
A shortened neck
A protruding tongue that often sticks out
White spots on the irises
Physical Limits and Therapies
The major physical need associated with children with Down syndrome is low muscle strength. As with any child, gross motor skills must be developed and maintained. Improving muscle tone and strength allows a child to sit, crawl, walk, explore, and interact with others. Physical therapy considerations for children with Down syndromeare activities that work to improve strength in muscles and help with coordination, balance, posture, and movement.
Chariot Innovationscreated the MiraColt, a therapeutic riding horse simulator for developing these gross motor skills. Equine therapy has been proven to work many muscles at once while stimulating the brain to allow for all-over therapy to take place in a single session. This machinery offers such therapy from the comfort of a therapy office.
A Down syndrome diagnosis shouldn’t hinder you from being a family. Early detection will help you prepare for whatever hurdles you’re going to face. With your help, children with Down syndrome are extremely capable of meeting many of the same developmental milestones as other children. There is a lot to know about this genetic disorder and its types. Find groups and organizations advocating for Down syndrome to seek the additional support you’ll need as your family finds its way.
Joe S., a 24-year-old young man who has cerebral palsy, has been using the MiraColt™ on a regular basis since July 2020 as part of in-home physical therapy. The MiraColt has helped Joe sustain and improve positive outcomes from previous hippotherapy.