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Background: Children with Down syndrome (DS) often show underdeveloped motor ability and adaptation. Stair ascent is a common task to examine locomotor function and external ankle load is often used to perturb the stability of a system and observe the emergence of new patterns.

Research question: How do stair height and external ankle load affect locomotor adjustments in 5-to-11-year-old children with typical development (TD) and with DS during stair ascent?

Methods: Fourteen children with DS and 14 age- and sex-matched children with TD participated in this study. They walked along a 5-m walkway and ascended 3-step staircases of different heights (low, moderate, and high) with or without ankle load. A 3D motion capture system was used for data collection. Dependent variables included stance time and toe-to-stair distance before stair ascent, and vertical toe clearance and horizontal toe velocity during stair ascent. Mixed ANOVAs with repeated measures were conducted for statistical analysis.

Results: The DS group presented a longer stance time and a shorter toe-to-stair distance than the TD group before stair ascent. External ankle load affected, to a greater extent, the DS group than the TD group in stance time and toe-to-stair distance. During stair ascent, while the TD group generally maintained toe clearance and decreased horizontal toe velocity with the increase of stair height, the DS group decreased toe clearance and maintained horizontal toe velocity. Particularly, the DS group displayed a greater toe clearance than the TD group in the LS condition but a smaller toe clearance in the HS condition. In addition, external ankle load increased toe clearance and decreased horizontal toe velocity in both groups.

Significance: Children with DS display underdeveloped locomotor adjustments during stair ascent. External ankle load appears to help the DS group regulate toe clearance and horizontal toe velocity for different stair heights.


This is the authors’ peer-reviewed manuscript. The version of record is available from the publisher at