Children with Down syndrome usually experience considerable delay and difficulties when learning to talk, though they typically understand much more than they can express. As a mother raising a child with Down syndrome, I have found resources with helpful, simple, and fun suggestions to boost children's language development. If you are raising a child diagnosed with Down syndrome, encourage his development and communication skills with 12 activities recommended by various experts in early literacy and Down syndrome education. Pick the activities that best match your child's age or skill level, be enthusiastic, and don't forget to reward your child's efforts with praises and hugs.
EARLY COMMUNICATION SKILLS (AGES 0 to 2)
Listen to Me
Train your baby to discern speech sounds early in life by playing babble games, says Sue Buckley, the chief scientist at Down Syndrome Education International, a leading research and training organization based in the U.K. Hold your baby so she's facing you, with proper head support, and slowly make sounds like "a-ah" and "oo-oo" before moving on to early consonants like "d-d-d" and "m-m-m." Use exaggerated lip movements. You will be delighted by her efforts to copy you. The Down Syndrome Education store (store.dseenterprises.org/collections/see-and-learn-speech) sells picture sound cards that can be used starting at 9 months to teach your baby to listen, discern words, and copy your lip movements.
Sign It, Say It
Visual learning is strong among people with Down syndrome, but remembering verbal information is more challenging. Help your baby learn the names of familiar objects by using simple gestures along with words, says Buckley, co-author of the book Speech and Language Development for Infants With Down Syndrome (0 to 5 Years). For example, put your hand to your ear when the phone rings and say "phone" or pretend to drink from a bottle or cup while saying "drink."
Together, You and I
Draw your child's attention to an object like a rattle, favorite toy, or picture and encourage her to look at it as you talk about the item. Gradually build up the length of time she can pay attention with interest as you describe the item. "Activities that encourage joint attention, where the child and caregiver look and listen to the same thing," Buckley says, "also help children learn language faster and improve attention span."
One at a Time
In her book Early Communication Skills for Children With Down Syndrome, Libby Kumin, Ph.D., a speech-language pathologist at Loyola University Maryland who has worked with people with Down syndrome for 30 years, says that all communication depends on turn-taking between listener and speaker. Rolling a ball back and forth is a simple way to practice this skill. As you roll the ball, say "mommy's turn" and as your child pushes it back, say his name ("Jack's turn"). Once he is pointing or speaking, have him point to himself and say "me" or his own name.