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6 Exercises to help kids with Down syndrome learn to walk

Maureen used to be obsessed with baseball -- and then she had children. After she welcomed her son, Charlie, and his extra chromosome, she discovered her passion for writing about Down syndrome and disability-related issues.

With two tod...

Strengthen that core!

Children with Down syndrome (Ds) often have a much harder time learning to walk, primarily because of their characteristic low muscle tone. Here are six exercises one physical therapist recommends to help children build strength.

Easy exercise ball techniques

An exercise ball helps strengthen critical abdominal muscles — and kids love to bounce and balance! Two easy exercises can make all the difference:

Focus on balance

Strengthen that core!

Note that Nikki is supporting Charlie on the exercise ball by holding onto his thighs, not his waist. “If a child really needs help, it’s OK to start by stabilizing them by holding their waists, but they’ll get a better workout by using their abdominal muscles to balance on the ball while you secure them at the thighs,” she says.

Nikki’s daughter, Nora, is older and stronger than Charlie, so Nikki only needs to support her at the knees as she balances on the ball.

Make your child’s abdominal muscles do the work by bouncing up and down and gently rocking the ball from side to side and front to back. As your child balances without touching the ball or you, these exercises build strength in abdominal and back muscles. An added benefit: These exercises help build confidence.

“Sometimes, kids are amazed at what they can do,” Nikki shares. “Accomplishing something that looks so hard can be a huge boost to their self-confidence, and you might get even more out of the workout because he’ll be willing to try more.”

Crunch time

Strengthen that core!

Another fun exercise: Have your child lay back on the ball while you secure him at the hips and thighs. As he crosses his body by reaching to the left with his right hand and to the right with his left hand as he sits up (or does a “crunch”), he flexes the oblique muscles.

“Making ‘workouts’ fun is the best trick to getting a child to work with you and not against you,” Nikki shares. “If your child is cranky or fighting a particular activity, switch it up and try again later. You’ll both waste precious energy struggling to get through the motions, and the end result is less benefit than if the child is engaged.”

Next up: Take a squat

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