Low muscle tone and an array of other factors that often contribute to delayed speech and difficulty with articulation can affect kids with Down syndrome. Thankfully, speech therapists offer strategies to strengthen your child's muscles and improve communication. The same muscles are used in both eating and speaking; feeding therapy, a precursor to speech therapy, often begins within the first year of your child's life.
Many children with Down syndrome want to communicate, and will be able to communicate, months or years before their mouths will produce intelligible words. According to Brian Skotko, M.D. (www.brianskotko.com), a specialist in the Down syndrome Program at Children's Hospital Boston, "Children with Down syndrome have a lot to say and they deserve to be heard and to be listened to, but while we are waiting for the language to set in it is imperative that we give them ways to communicate their wishes and desires. Sign language is one form, and many use picture communication symbols as they get older and other augmentative devices as they become whizzes at technology." These various forms of communication "decrease frustration and behavioral problems while increasing relationships and friendships in those formative years."
For infants and toddlers, baby sign language books, websites, and videos exist to introduce both parents and children to simple sign language. The book Early Communication Skills for Children with Down Syndrome, by Libby Kumin, Ph.D., offers further advice and resources for augmentative communication devices.