Babies with Down syndrome have low muscle tone, or hypotonia. When I first heard this, I thought it had something to do with the muscles themselves and that once strengthened everything would be fine. I harbored secret fantasies of mommy/baby strength training with a cute twenty-something trainer. In my imagination, she and I both ended up with hard bodies.
I soon found out that the strength of a muscle is not related to its tone, although low tone can contribute to lower muscle strength. Muscle tone has to do with the amount of resistance to movement in a muscle. This means that the muscle is less stiff than usual and more easily stretched, making it more difficult for the muscle to maintain stability. It also has to do with the speed of the muscles’ responses. It is considered to be a central nervous system disorder and can be thought of as sketchy communication between the brain and the muscles.
You probably don’t need me to describe the clinical characteristics of low muscle tone. You see it everyday. I do too. But just in case you not sure what types of situations are caused by it, I’ll share a few examples. My daughter has difficulty with muscle control (evident when she tries to eat a puff but misses her mouth), slowness of muscle responses to her brain’s commands (the delay between when I jiggle her abs and when she rolls over), and slower reflexes (it takes just that little bit longer for her to cry when she gets a boo-boo.)
However, she can eat a puff, roll over, and cry when she hurts. Low muscle tone doesn’t mean your baby will not develop along the same path as a typical baby. She will... as long as you provide intervention... you know it, the training sessions I was so eagerly fantasizing about.
Work Those Abs, Baby
The strategy for minimizing the effects of low tone has a two-pronged approach. Provide lots of stimulation to improve your child’s muscle function and control, and exercise her muscles regularly to instill a deep, conscious awareness of how her muscles work. Think of it as waking up sleeping muscles and then helping to pave the communication highway between the brain and the muscles.
What should be reflexive (automatic) isn’t and must be learned, and the earlier the better. That is why early intervention is so valuable to counteracting low tone. Starting early ensures that a conscious awareness of how to use her muscles will be deeply ingrained, thus providing the most benefits possible. Early and consistent muscle stimulation and training will help your child reduce the effects of low tone.
Wait, There’s More
Hypotonia does not affect intellect. That’s good news. So say it to yourself loud and clear... the effects of my baby’s low tone have no bearing on his cognitive abilities. Your baby is smarter than you know.
If you have pictures of your baby under the age of two that you would like to share for use on this blog, tell me. I will visit you and let you know what I need for upcoming posts.