Getting Children with Down syndrome to Answer Questions: Part 2 Being a Good Role Model

As soon as you have children who are old enough to imitate, you start to realize something. You do a lot of things you weren’t aware of. When my mother-in-law came for a visit several years ago, Louis (then 3) started following her around with his hands on his hips. While we all thought this was hilarious he was simply doing what young children do well.


Watch and do – that’s how children learn many things. Asking and answering questions too.Even as adults watch how others communicate with us and adapt our style when talking to them. My favorite example of this is the “Close Talker” on Seinfeld (if you haven’t seen this episode, watch a clip on youtube: Close Talker). When people get in our “space” when talking we back up. When people use a slow rate of speech, ours slows too. Think about your very closest friend. How do they talk to you? Do they listen well? Do they only ask you questions or do they balance it with comments? We want to model these good communication skills for our children.

Children pick up early pre-speech skills like waving, blowing kisses, etc. by watching the adults around them. Then we encourage them. We say things like, “Yay!” using an increased vocal tone indicating – “I am so happy you just did that!”  We also use body language and a facial expression that says, “Good job…now do that again!” So they do. Over and over again.

When we want a child to answer a question we have to make sure it’s one they are actually able to answer. See my post on asking the right questions  for more information. Then we need to set the child up for success.

How do I show my child I want her to answer me?

  • Pick a time when you can sit on the floor or table with your child. You need about 15 minutes of uninterrupted play time. Set a timer and let other family members (your kids) know this is your child’s special learning time.
  • Choose an activity that you can do together. Examples include: playing cars, using a kitchen set, play-dough, or blocks. Don’t pick reading books or coloring. For this activity we need to work face to face.
  • Start by making comments such as, “This car goes fast!” or “Mmm, that’s good tea,” when it is your turn during play.
  • Wait for your child to comment too. Watch for ways she communicates back – head nodding, words, gestures, etc.
  • Show her you want a response using your body language: raise your eye brows, look like you want an answer and don’t say anything. Yes, you just read it correctly.

What?!? How is your child going to learn to talk if you don’t say anything? Well, I didn’t say you are going to do this every time you play, just right now, for this exercise. I want you to see what will happen. Children need time to process and provide a response. Especially children with Down syndrome. What do we typically do during play? We run a happy monologue commenting on their every move without so much as a breath. So to get ready to ask questions, we (parents, SLPs, teachers) need to learn to watch and learn how the child comfortably responds to these comments before we move to specific questions that require a response.

Next, we move onto questions. And follow a similar pattern:

  • Make a few comments while playing with your child.
  • Show her you want a response using your body language: raise your eye brows, look like you want an answer and don’t say anything.
  • Wait for your child to comment too.  
  • Then, ask a question related to your play activity, “Do you want pizza or coffee,” (for pretend kitchen play) or “Do you want me to make a ball or a snake?” (for play-dough activities).
  • Show her you want a response and wait for one. Don’t pick how she responds – just praise her when she responds. She may point to the pizza and you will praise her! “Oh! You want pizza! Yum!”
  • Remember to talk when it is your turn and wait quietly and expectantly when it is her turn.

As she gains more confidence understanding this new activity –

Daddy talks, I talk. We take turns.

– more answers will come. Remember we are trying to increase confidence during this activity. We are not demanding an answer. We are not quizzing. We are taking turns in a mini-conversation. Our goal is for the child to be as comfortable answering questions as she is responding to comments.