Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Happy Strap

People with Down Syndrome are super flexible!
Super Flexible

People with Down Syndrome are extremely flexible. They generally have lower muscle tone and their ligaments are more loose than other people. Even adults with Down Syndrome can sit cross legged very easily or sit with their legs out wide. Felix can get into the most incredible positions because of his added flexibility. When he sits in his high chair, he will often lift his leg up and have it pressed up against the side of his head. Quite amazing to see.

The problem with poor muscle tone and added flexibility means that people with Down Syndrome are prone to hip problems, and it is a big reason why children with Down Syndrome are later to learn to sit up, crawl and walk. You will notice that a lot of adults with Down Syndrome walk with a very wide gait (legs far apart), and children with Down Syndrome will often sit with their legs wide open.

Learning to climb stairs

Just to give you an example of Felix's development here are some of his milestones so far:

He learned to commando crawl at 12 months (dragging himself along by the elbows). The average age for a child with Down Syndrome to do that is 14 months (give or take 5 months).

Felix could sit up reasonably well by 10 months but still toppled over. He could sit perfectly on his own by his first birthday. The average age for a child with Down Syndrome to sit completely unaided is 11 months (give or take 4 months).

He could crawl beautifully on all fours by 14 months old. The average for a child with Down Syndrome is 17 months old (give or take 7 months).

Felix learned to pull himself to stand at 15 months old., which is the average for children with Down Syndrome (give or take 3 months).

He could climb a flight of stairs at 15 months old, with the average for Down Syndrome being 20 months (give or take 8 months).

We have been really pleased with the development of Felix's gross motor skills, as have his Physiotherapist, Paediatrician and Occupational Therapist. He is doing everything he should be doing so far.

Rocking my strap
The Strap

My husband and I put a lot of Felix's physical development down to a little strap we bought from South Africa. We read about the strap in some information we received from the Down Syndrome Society of South Australia. At first, we put the information aside, but after hearing about other people having success with it in children older than Felix, we decided to order one to try it.

Beautiful leg position
When we first put the strap on Felix's legs, he was about 11 1/2 months old and barely sitting on his own. Within weeks of wearing it, he was sitting perfectly, starting to get up on all fours to attempt to crawl and had a sitting position as you would expect in a child who didn't have Down Syndrome (his legs weren't spread too widely apart which is common in kids with DS).

With the strap, Felix has learned to go from crawling to sitting in the right way without splaying out his legs and causing strain on his hips. When he learned to pull himself to stand, he did so correctly and has wonderful leg position. Now, if I leave the strap off for a couple of days, he maintains the correct positioning because his body has been trained to do it the right way.

It was an expensive investment, costing $110 Australian dollars, but we think it was worth every cent. We aim for him to wear the strap until he's at least 5 years old (we will have to purchase bigger straps as he grows), but we think it's a small price to pay considering it should teach him to retain the correct stance for the rest of his life, and hopefully minimise any future hip problems.

What is it?

The Happy Strap is a nylon strap which is worn under the clothes. It is very discreet. People have no idea Felix has it on until I show them. It is made of nylon and fits around Felix's upper thighs and is secured by a stud (which has 3 positions depending on the child's size). There is a small piece which connects to the thigh pieces to allow for movement, but doesn't allow for the legs to spread wide open.  The thigh straps are connected to a 'belt' which fits around his waist and is secured by velcro. The whole thing is very comfortable for him to wear and he has never even noticed he has it on.

It all sounds very complicated, but it's actually a very simple design made by a mother of a child with Down Syndrome. I could not speak more highly of it and am so glad we decided to give it a go with Felix! It's brilliant!!

Where do I get one?

Playing with Daddy
The company is based in South Africa. I think they ship all around the world. The website contains the word 'mongolism' in their description of themselves which made me cringe a bit, but don't let that put you off trying the product. I really couldn't speak more highly of it!

This is the website if you are interested in trying one. They are suitable for any child who has hypotonia (poor muscle tone), not just those with Down Syndrome. It's definitely worth a look!

*The statistics I have quoted are from the book, 'Gross Motor Skills in Children with Down Syndrome' by Patricia. C. Winders, P.T.


  1. I had a look at the Happy Strap website this morning and it has been updated. The word 'mongolism' is no longer on there which is great!!! Kylie

  2. In the US, it is available from www.pacificrehabinc.com
    They now have distributors in most countries.