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Training Persons with Down Syndrome

In earlier days, children with Down (or Down’s) Syndrome would be isolated from their communities, often by a society which really didn't know any better. Lowered expectations would produce lowered results. Today, many individuals function at a higher level than most would ever have thought possible. For many, the special challenges are certainly are NOT insurmountable.

Yes, there are physical challenges to DS, but hypotonic muscle tone (low muscle tone) which often leads to many other issues (physical, social, psychological) is probably the most common. With many DS, hypotonic muscle tone largely disappears with age and regular exercise. Obesity is common (64% in females) as are respiratory infections. Ligaments may be overly lax. 50% may have initial heart defects at birth. 17% may have weak tissue supporting the first two vertebrae of the neck. A focus on strength, endurance, CV and balance training in particular can offer significant hope for a happier life. With some obvious precautions, aqua training can be an ideal possibility.

Peole with Down syndrome can manipulate their social environment just as much as any other person to get what they need. The trainer must be able to see through the negative coping skills which can be expressed through "emotional eating", lack of social contact with others, lack of engaging in physical exercise with others, excessive sleep - all those routines that avoid dealing with a world perceived as "hostile" or "unwelcoming". So, how is that so different from the world of, let's say, the obese, or otherwise physically, emotionally, or intellectually handicapped? And who among us has no handicap or frailty of some kind?

What works? Clients with DS often have a private world they feel compelled to escape to, which they're anxious to share with others - engaging their "happy place" often works. Several of my clients with DS and children with DS of friends appear to have an extraordinary appreciation and talent for music - dance, rhythmic movement, and song.

Who says that a training session must include disciplined, tedious hours on "scientific" exercise apparatus? Target the target areas with a variety of exercises. Use a variety of equipment. Be creative with the Swiss Ball and Stretch Bands. My client enjoys showing me her dance moves to ABBA or Spice Girls for a solid cardiovascular session - as I encourage her to think "multiple-muscle workout" to burn calories or "hi-low intensity" to build endurance. She likes to control the choice of music - where's the problem?

Aquatic fitness training, in particular, offers all the possibilities for solid fitness training with the extra safety of hydrostatic support. It encourages building fitness while avoiding excessive stress on joints and vulnerable tissue. It offers the tremendous benefit of social support when led by an instructor who takes pride in managing the class, planning ahead for an effective atmosphere: with appropriate music, good people skills, and artfully applying fitness science.

Critically, the trainer must overcome his own preconceptions, and increase the expectations from this special client. The rewards are many - for client and trainer.

By Chet Skibinski MEd, WaterART MT, PTS, STC 
contact him at  www.fitbug.com
1 Fitbug Personalized Training & WaterART Grand Master Trainer

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