When Cati was about 3 months old, I was introduced in the trisomy 13 community, that I found via Living with Trisomy 13 site. I joined the yahoo group, the Facebook groups, read all stories on every site and blog I could find. I payed attention to what other people found helpful for the development and comfort of their children, and if I could purchase that item, I would.
Trisomy mommies suggested the Bumbo seat and the exersaucer as two important „helpers”, so I bought both (had them shipped from the UK, as you cannot find a Bumbo seat in Romania). Well, it turned out I didn’t use the Bumbo seat too much- Cati had poor head control and would arch backwards, making the seat very unsafe for her. We didn’t use the Exersaucer too much, either, the first year we had it. I didn’t force Cati on the sitting position because the muscles of her back were not ready to support her backbone, and I didn’t want to risk scoliosis. For us, it proved to be the right decision at that time.
A couple of months ago I met (on line) Mr. Sam Sansalone, Katya’s father. Katya is a wonderful young lady with full Trisomy 13, and here mere picture is able to brighten my day in the most complete way. She is pure joy, and she is doing pretty well. I asked Sam to give me some tips for Cati’s development, as Katya could walk unassisted and seemed well developed for a full T13 diagnosis.
Sam mentioned the Exersaucer. I’ll quote his entire answer, hoping it will prove as useful for you, as it was for me:
To answer your question, Katya was 5 years old when she started being completely independent in her walking (i.e., no longer with any walker or other assistive device). There will be lots of suggestions, tips, and knowledge I can share that may help your daughter learn to walk as best as possible and very likely completely independently within a few years. It will be lots of work and time on your part, but very much worth it.
I had to innovate new ways of helping a child like Katya learn to walk because the traditional, usual approaches have not proved to work well with T13 kids (largely due to their very ‘slow’ way of learning and responding neuromotor-wise). The high-profile healthcare facility that helped during Katya’s walker-training stage was initially very resistant to some of my key ideas because they considered them bordering on ‘unsafe’ as they made it more likely for the child to lose control in the walker. But these new techniques and approaches were not unsafe – they simply required more diligent supervision by the parent (really diligent supervision). Eventually this facility (Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital) accepted and then even lauded the principles and techniques I had proposed and implemented for my daughter. They even invited me after that to be on a development team for a new walker they were developing. So many advantages for various people could result from the hard work you do as a parent on behalf of your special-needs child and the community.
And have you ever heard of the Exersaucer? It’s an infant sitting-up chair that has a circular shelf/table all around the circumference, a freely-rotating seat, and collapsible ‘tripod’ feet that allow it to convert to a standing rocker. I am guessing if you can get one of those it will be a boon to Cati’s upright sitting. And, you’re right – that is a very important step towards walking and other upright mobility moves. There appear to be many different models now. I think it’s important to get one that has the rocker bottom option. Basically, the rocking feature is one of the ways that Katya managed to learn the concept and dynamics of left/right weight transfer, back and forth. That is an integral concept and motion for walking. When we walk, the biomechanics of it is that we must swing with momentum from side-to-side as we take steps in order to transfer sufficient weight+momentum to the other side while taking each step –i.e., so we can take each step without falling to the side we are stepping from. We have to ‘throw’ our weight directionally to the next-step’s side and with a great deal of precision and finesse. It will take untold thousands upon innumerable thousands of iterations of this dynamic for a child like ours to finally ‘get it’. The Exersaucer is one of the key methods I used to formulate that part of Katya’s „neural network” for walking capability. There is much more, of course, but in Katya’s case this was a vital, major part and step. I highly recommend the Exersaucer.
Here is the oppinion of a Down Syndrome parent on the Exersaucer. Here is the oppinion of an Occupational Therapist/mom about the same issue.
I asked Bob Doman about the use of the Exersaucer and he allowed Cati to use it a couple of times a day, but no more that 10-15 minutes once.
In Cati’s case, the Exersaucer had a double benefit: on one hand, it helped Cati with head control and upper body control, as well as taught her to push her feet, and so she started supporting her weight on her feet (a thing she didn’t do before). On the other hand, Cati learned pretty fast how to manipulate the toys on the Exersaucer’s table- and there are lots of different ones: to push buttons, turn pages, lift flaps, spin, pull. Although we didn’t use it for the first whole year, it proved very useful in the end. We bought ours second hand, and payed less than half of what we’d have payed for a new one.