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6 Exercises to help kids with Down syndrome learn to walk

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.

Building muscle is critical to helping children with Ds combat low muscle tone and reach development milestones. Nikki Degner, MPT, works with children with special needs at Move and Grow! in Huntersville, North Carolina. Her daughter, Nora, and Charlie teamed up to demonstrate six of Nikki’s most recommended exercises to strengthen muscles key to walking.

Climbing stairs

Charlie on the stairs

This exercise has multiple benefits, Nikki says. “By working with your child to learn to climb stairs, you’re teaching a skill they’ll need throughout their lifetime, and you’re also strengthening all the ‘core’ and leg muscles needed to walk.”

An additional benefit is safety. “If your child learns how to safely climb and descend stairs, you decrease the risk of what could happen during those three seconds when he manages to elude you and approach a staircase,” Nikki adds.

In these photos, note that Nikki is supporting Charlie’s waist as he steadies himself with the railing, then presses a gentle “reminder” at his knees so he bends his knees to climb up. Taking a step up, then leaning on that knee and using that leg’s muscles to rise to the next step builds both leg and abdominal muscles.

Next up: Work is the pits!

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