Speech and language present many challenges for children with Down syndrome but there is information that can help infants and toddlers begin learning to communicate, and help young children progress in speech and language. Although most children with Down syndrome learn to speak and will use speech as their primary means of communication, they will understand language and have the desire to communicate well before they are able to speak. Total communication, using sign language, pictures, and/or electronic synthesized speech can serve as a transitional communication system.
We started signing with Tera when she was about six months old. We started with more and all done and used them as much as we possibly could around meal times. At the beginning I was very frustrated with myself for not remembering on many nights to practice the signs with her at dinner time, but after a while it became second nature. I vividly remember wanting desperately for her to be able to start signing and so many times I was close to posting the question in my Baby Center forum just wanting to know at what age kids with DS were "typically" starting. I felt like everything I was reading from other parents indicated that their kids at approximately the same age as Tera, were already signing multiple things and we were still waiting for her to start.
Then one night last spring we took her to Dairy Queen and Tom offered her ice cream and she magically signed "more". From there she has really taken off. Some of them she has picked up quicker than others, for example "all done" is still a work in progress as far as her being able to do it without prompting and appropriately, but she picked up "please" in an hour and was signing it spontaneously and appropriately very quickly. We've gone from one or two a month to one or two a week some weeks.
People often ask if she's saying any words yet and our response of course is, "no". But when they find out she can sign, they are often times amazed at the fact that she can, and that she knows so many. That is many times followed up by the question of whether all kids with DS learn to sign and if DS is the reason we sign with her. The answer to both questions is no. Although I think most parents of kids with DS do some amount of signing with them, I'm sure it's not all of them and we were actually planning on doing it with her before she was even born and we knew she had DS. Here's another excerpt from the NDSS:
Children with Down syndrome frequently begin to use single words between the ages of two and three, but the age of the first word varies, and the first true word may not be a spoken word, but it may be a signed word. Most children with Down syndrome communicate from birth through crying, looking and gesturing. They have the desire to communicate and learn that crying or making sounds can affect their environment and bring them help and play and attention. Many children with Down syndrome, by 10-12 months of age, understand the relationship between a word and a concept. However, at that age, the child generally does not have sufficient neurological and motor skills developed to be able to speak. That's why it is important to provide another system so that the child can communicate and learn language before they are able to speak.
We still sign "thank you" to her every time we say it, but she's not quite able to understand the need for that one because there's no pay out for it. Each time we work on a new sign we try and make it something that will be useful so that she gets an immediate reward (ie what she wants) and can start making the connection between signing and getting. This week I will be working on "I love you" because the pay out to me will be immeasurable.
|Food is DEFINITELEY a motivating factor in signing...|