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What activities do you recommend to support speech and language development for a young child with Down syndrome?

Learning to talk is a challenge for most children with Down syndrome. Many children will benefit from regular support targeted at their specific speech and language needs. This should include activities to promote speech skills and activities to explicitly teach vocabulary and grammar. Activities supporting the earliest speech skills can start from around 6 months.

All children with Down syndrome experience delays in language development. Many will benefit from evidence-base, targeted early interventions from a young age.

We recommend regular support targeting both speech skills and language development.

Speech

Activities to support speech skills should target the discrimination and production of speech sounds, learning to combine sounds (starting with simple consonant-vowel combinations), and then rehearsing whole words (starting with one and two syllable words).

The available research evidence suggests that it is important to help children with Down syndrome to imitate, produce and practice speech sounds and words from the first year of life to improve their speech production skills. This should lead to clearer speech, and also support word learning and verbal memory development with wider benefits for language and literacy skills.

Language

Activities to promote language development should focus first on teaching early vocabulary and should supplement lots of everyday opportunities to learn language. Additional teaching is likely to be more effective if carefully planned and structured to explicitly teach language skills appropriate to a child's level of understanding and if it follows the typical patterns of progression in language development.

When children have learned a vocabulary of at least 50 words (understand, but not necessarily say them all) they are ready to start combining to make simple phrases. At this point, we recommend teaching sight word reading as a way to support language development and to provide a visual representation of words, phrases and sentences.

Down Syndrome Education International and Down Syndrome Education USA have developed (and are continuing to develop) a range of resources to support evidence-based early intervention approaches for children with Down syndrome. These are available as apps and as printed kits, and include detailed guidance and record forms to track progress. See and Learn Speech targets speech skills and See and Learn Language and Reading targets early vocabulary and first reading skills.


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