Birth to Three, Family, Speech & Language, Therapy Activities, Uncategorized

“What can I do to help my infant with Down syndrome learn to talk?” Part 1 – Pre-word Stage

Many parents come to our clinic and ask me,

What can I do to help my child learn to talk?

This question is asked by parents with one child and parents of many children. Often this question is asked because another SLP through EI, clinic, etc. says,

“You’re child is too young to start speech therapy right now. Let’s wait until they’re a bit older.”

There are a few reasons a SLP may say this to you. One reason is that many children with Ds develop skills like cooing, babbling, and jargoning on time or only slightly behind their same age peers without Ds. If there’s not a lag in development the SLP may not recommend early intervention.  

Once hearing there’s nothing to do therapeutically, I see families going one of two ways,

  1. They purchase lots of products like videos, books, developmental toys, and/or oral stimulation tools. Typically one parent or caregiver attempts to use these items but gets frustrated trying to implement the tools at home without guidance. Now their home “therapy” library is full and they’re not sure where to start.
  2. The parent begins to talk, talk, talk. Like a sports announcer the parent thinks the more the child hears the more they are learning…right?

Neither way is completely off the mark, but I like the old phrase, “Everything in moderation.”  Both of these scenarios happen because parents know that down the road communication may be difficult for their child. They want to do  something, anything to prevent this from occuring.

Starting out I encourage families to first try the principal of equal air time. Equal air time is a concept I learned during my Hanen training. For every comment you make, provide the child with time to respond. Talk and listen. Anticipate and expect a response. It could be a sound, movement, or facial expression. Be on the alert for these early language skills.

I think the hardest part is not talking. When interacting with your baby wait for a response. Count to 10 silently if you have to. It’s counterintuitive to be quiet, but with practice this technique of waiting and expecting a response teaches spontaneous vocalization. Whatever sounds they make are accepted, praised, and encouraged.

What are the earliest forms of speech in a child with Down syndrome?

Like their peers without Ds, the hierarchy for speech follows this progression:

  1. Cooing with vowels or back sounds like “coo” or “goo”
  2. Vocal play that includes squeals, growls, and other noises (raspberries); syllable like productions appear
  3. Canonical babbling: this includes reduplicated babbling /da da da/ and variegated babbling /tah da ba/ with inflection
  4. Jargon that sounds like her “own language.” Jargon or jabbering sounds like adult speech with a variety of consonants and vowels strung together.

Where do I start?

This depends on the age and stage of your baby. Regardless of age, get face to face with your baby. If your baby is young start by making cooing noises like “oh.” Don’t be afraid to sound silly! Baby talk to encourage sound imitation is perfectly acceptable.

Later, between 6 and 9 months, I have families pair actions (motor movements) with sounds. This is the time to brush off those early finger plays like, So Big, Peek-a-boo, and Pat-a-Cake. Vocalization, especially between 6 and 12 months, can be promoted by integrating motor movements with sounds.

If your child is very quiet start with some movement activities such as clapping, banging (on a drum or pan), waving. Once the child is able to imitate these simple movements integrate sounds with them. Tapping a drum becomes buh, buh, buh while making the movement. Then allow the child to try. Again, wait for a response. After 10 – 15 seconds, demonstrate again. Make sure you are using one toy or item when working on motor and speech imitation. This works on early language skills including joint attention, imitation, and reciprocal interaction or early turn taking.

Most of all, relax and enjoy your baby! A happy, engaged parent provides is best visual model of language you can give.