One of the hallmarks of Down Syndrome is that children typically take a bit longer to learn speech and some other skills. However, our children’s needs don’t simply wait because they are not able to articulate them. It is for this reason that so many parents opt to start teaching their children sign language.
By teaching sign language to our children with Down Syndrome, we are affording them the means to communicate, before the skill of speech comes into play.
I am happy to share some alternative methods of communication for our late talkers and our children who are not able to verbally communicate. There are many other ways for kids to successfully communicate! Using alternative means of communication is essential for our tiny friends. A communication system will allow your child to feel more closely connected to others, better engage with academic materials, and improve non-preferred behaviors.
- Sign Language
Gestures and sign language are incredibly powerful for your child! When you provide your child with skills such as gestures or sign language, you are giving them the gift of communication. Many parents worry that teaching sign language will prevent children from ever learning spoken language, but in fact research shows the opposite. It has been proven that teaching sign language can actually improve children’s language and cognition. One of the first communicative milestones is learning that you must do something in order to get something. When you teach your little one gestures or sign language, you are teaching them that they CAN do something (e.g. sign ‘water’) in order to get something (e.g. water). You can start with 3-5 basic signs (e.g. more, give me, hungry, etc.) and add more as your child starts to use the signs consistently in order to communicate.
Pictures are a great way to help your nonverbal child communicate. You want to start by using pictures of the actual objects in your house so that it is an easier association for your child. As much as cartoon images are cute – they are harder for our children to associate with the real thing. You can create a necklace of 5-10 everyday objects that your child may request throughout the day. That way, your child can easily flip through the pictures around their neck to tell you what they want. Additionally, you’ll want to place the pictures of the household items on the actual object so that your little one has many opportunities to associate the object and communicate with you. There are many picture systems that work wonderfully and your child’s SLP will know which one is best for your little one specifically.
- Low Tech or High Tech Devices
There are a ton of different devices that children are able to use to express themselves. There are low tech options such as communication books or boards with Velcro pictures that children can pull to greet, label, request, answer questions, etc. There are also keyboards/alphabet boards that your child can use to type to communicate. High tech devices include tablets, Ipads, and other screened options with customizable buttons. These high tech devices use digitized or synthetic speech that acts as your child’s voice. Again, your child’s SLP will know which system will work best for your child based on their language level, fine motor skills, attention span, etc.
Overall, remember that none of the options above will prevent your child from verbally communicating! These alternative communication systems will only enhance your child’s cognitive abilities and language.
Molly Dresner is a Speech Language Pathologist and Feeding Therapist based in New York City. She believes that the more you know – as a parent or caregiver – the stronger you will be in supporting your little one’s speech and language development. To help you achieve this, her focus is on providing you with fun & functional suggestions.
She recently authored The Speech Teacher’s Handbook, an engaging parent guide that includes practical and easy-to-follow tips & activities to help you help your little one!
When I heard those words, Down Syndrome, referring to my own newborn son, I reached back into my memory and began pulling forward all the information I could recall. The pieces were disheveled, the files corrupted but from memory, I could recall that it was a genetic disorder, there were 3 copies of the 21st chromosome, there were obvious physical facial characteristics, speech delays and well…I had never carried on a conversation with someone who had Down Syndrome so likely they didn’t have the capacity to carry on lengthy conversations. I had many misconceptions, I had many stereotypes, but I also had some flat-out lies embedded in my subconscious.
Lie #1- My Life Is Over…
I firmly believed, through the surges of salty tears that daily streamed from my red puffy eyes, that life as I knew it was over. I wouldn’t be happy again, I wouldn’t live the life I had come to love, my family would forever be sad and lonely because we now had a child with special needs.
TRUTH: I smile more now than I did just a year ago. I cannot, nor can anyone I have met, look at my son and not smile in return to his gummy grins.
Lie #2- People With Down Syndrome Can’t Carry Meaningful Conversations
Because I had never spoken with someone who had Down Syndrome I mistakenly assumed that there weren’t many articulate thoughts being spoken. I have now had the privilege of speaking with a number of really great people who make me smile, laugh, and WANT to be around them.
TRUTH: Individuals with Down Syndrome have likes, dislikes, opinions, feelings, and thoughts that they would love to express to you if you listen.
Lie #3- People with Down Syndrome are Never Independent
Look no further than youtube or A&E to the show Born This Way to see the possibilities. Not every person with Down Syndrome is capable of complete independence, but more seem to be than previously thought and the numbers are growing every day as we come to expect more.
TRUTH: Each individual should be given the opportunity to prove what they are capable of.
Lie #4- People With Down Syndrome Are A Drain on Resources
There is a need for resources directed at those with Down Syndrome but they are worth it. We are now seeing the amazing benefits of early intervention and high expectations and these lives are worth it.
TRUTH: There are entrepreneurs, public speakers, models, and actors with Down Syndrome who are all giving back.
Lie #5- Those with Down Syndrome Can’t…
Can’t walk, can’t talk, can’t read, can’t write…the list goes on and on. There was a time in the history of the United States, and not that long ago I might add, where mothers were told to put their children with Down Syndrome into institutions and forget about them because they “can’t.” What we now know is that with early intervention they CAN.
TRUTH: They can walk, they can talk, they can do so many things that were previously thought impossible, just give them a chance.
So tell me, what did I miss? What other lies are there out there about Down Syndrome?
*This post Contains Affiliate Links*
We are almost at the end of our very first year into Down Syndrome and I wanted to start sharing a few of the products that I have come across that will make your lives simpler. Right now I want to focus on supported sitting and the great stuff that is out there that will be a huge help to you in this area. (This was an area that took Cedar a long time to master and it wasn’t until we were between 10-11 months that he was starting to be able to sit independently for minutes at a time so this was a milestone that we had to work up to. In the meantime baby gets really tired of looking at the world from a tummy position so to help with supported sitting, check these items out…
When your babe is slower to sit the first product that was recommended to us was this chair by Fisher Price
Ferocious comfort & fun for your little one
This adorable lion seat provides a comfy and supportive place for baby to relax and play. The upright position gives baby a good view of the world and encourages interaction in a new way. The soft, upright seat and wide base provide sturdy support. Playful foot pads encourage baby to kick for squeaker sounds. Two linkable toys – a lion rattle with teether and sliding clacker rings – keep baby entertained. There’s even a snack tray so baby can enjoy favorite foods while sitting comfortably. Take the seat on-the-go; it folds for easy portability and storage with tray stored underneath. Seat pad is removable and machine washable for easy cleaning.
The Infantino Prop-A-Pillar Tummy Time & Seated Support is new to me just this week. Our early intervention development specialist brought this one out and what I love is that since Cedar is now sitting independently (though still wobbly if he gets too excited) it doesn’t do the work for him. It simply offers some support so that if I walk out of the room and he gets excited he won’t fall flat back on his head, he is reminded to engage his core and right himself. Plus, Cedar really likes this one so that makes it a win in my book!
Then there is the Galt Toys Inc First Years Farm Playnest and Gym, sit and play, why yes, a win-win.
And lastly for my top 4…when you have a reluctant sitter, bathtime can be a challenge. It was another mom on instagram who turned me on to this one, it looks kinda funny but it allows a baby who needs extra support to still enjoy bathtime.
Shnuggle Baby Bath Tub
The SHNUGGLE bath makes baby bath times easier and safer. The beautiful design with smooth curves and flowing roll top is perfectly shaped for your baby from birth (stage 1) right up to 12 months (stage 2) the bathtub features an integrated bum bump which helps to support your baby while they recline in the early months, giving you both hands free to wash and play with baby. When baby starts to sit forward (stage 2), the bum bump gives support and confidence making bath time more the large foam backrest is soft and warm to touch, making bath time more comfortable and when used with bath water at the ideal temperature of 100°f, your baby can enjoy a longer bath without getting cold. The small size makes it ideal to use in the bath, shower, kitchen sink or on the floor and as it is lightweight to easily carry when filled with water.
Isn’t it great to see some more options to help our little ones sit up to see the world?