Down Syndrome: Lifetime of Language

Down Syndrome: Lifetime of Language

About six thousand babies are born with Down syndrome each year in the United States. These babies thrive and become adults with the average life span being about 60 years of age. It is important for individuals with Down syndrome to have the tools they need in order to successfully participate in their communities. Children and adults with Down syndrome face many challenges across their lifespan and communication is one of them. So what can we do as parents, caregivers, teachers and friends? We can start teaching language skills at an early age by emphasizing specific communication goals. Below I have provided just a few quick tips for general age groups.

Quick Tips for Language Development

  • Infants: Sing to your baby and play little games like peek-a-boo. When appropriate, teach them to imitate your body movements through songs and dances. Provide oral motor stimulation by massaging the cheeks and lips. Individuals with Down syndrome have low muscle tone and this includes the muscles that help us eat and talk. Consult a speech-language pathologist and ask them to teach you oral motor stimulation exercises.
  • Toddlers: Teach sign language and/or gestures in conjunction with words. Individuals with Down syndrome are really good at using gestures to communicate. Use this strength to teach new words. Use straws and open cups instead of sippy cups for drinking liquids. This will help promote adequate development of the muscles for speaking and eating. Read to your child every day. I recommend continuing to encourage your toddler to imitate body movements and words through dancing activities.
  • Children: Reinforce the use of pronouns (i.e. he, she, they) and prepositions (i.e. in, on, off, out). These “little” words are often produced out of order in sentences or simply left out. Practice comprehension of instructions by using words that describe appearance or location when giving your child instructions (i.e. bring me the purple coat that is under the table). Speak slowly to help your child speak more slowly too. When we reduce our rate of speech we are more easily understood. When reading books together, ask your child one question after every couple of pages to help with comprehension. Help them use pictures to figure out the answers.
  • Teens: Talk about everyday social situations and work on identifying problems and solutions. Rehearse what you would say in certain situations. You can also practice taking turns asking each other questions about a topic selected. This will help prepare your teen for social situations at school and in the community. Teenagers love YouTube! Take advantage of this and use age-appropriate videos to teach social language skills. For example, watch a movie trailer and take turns asking each other questions.
  • Adults: Encourage friendships and help with planning gatherings and outings. Teach how to use cell phones to schedule reminders and set alarms. We live in a world that is connected to the internet and it will be important to talk about internet safety. It is also important to teach how to use the internet to look up information. If a person knows how to use the internet, they can look up bus routes, restaurants, words, movie times, recipes, etc. Another thing you can do is cook healthy recipes together. This helps with reading and following instructions. Cooking is a great way to teach the meaning of sequential vocabulary (i.e. before, after, first).

What’s good no matter the age?

The one thing I recommend across all stages and ages is reading! Expose your children to books since birth and teach them literacy skills no matter how old they are. Improving language skills is a lifelong process. Individuals with Down syndrome will always benefit from participating in programs that help increase and maintain language expression and comprehension. Speech-language therapy is important but it is just as important to maintain skills by participating in community events and speech-language therapy maintenance programs.

Looking for more information about reading tips with toddlers? Check out our recommendations here.

If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to reach out by posting a comment in the section below.

Photo credit: Andreas-photography on VisualHunt/cc BY-NC