Speech & Language, Therapy Tools, Tips and Tricks, Uncategorized

Is Speech-Language Therapy a Cure for Kids with DS?

Confession – I used that title to suck you into this post, but for good reason. I will answer the question…perhaps in a way you may not expect. Recently someone recommended that I read Communicating Partners, by James MacDonald (AKA Dr. Jim), so I packed it as beach reading for vacation. I really like the book (so far) for several reasons:

  • It’s practical. I love resources that can be your go-to for ideas. Dr. Jim’s introduction contains a basic how-to for reading the book. For instance, if your child is nonverbal but imitates actions start at chapter 8. From there, tips and techniques are fleshed out specific to the child’s stage of communication.
  • It’s dense. Dr. Jim has TONS of research references partnered with real-life examples of how to engage your child. This isn’t a light book and it will make you think about the ways you interact with your child. It’s set up quite differently than Libby Kumin’s Early Communication Skills in Children with Down Syndrome although both are written for parents & professionals. The main difference is this: Kumin’s text is a great introduction for parents, while MacDonald’s work is for those interested in advancing their parent-child interaction skills.
  • Its topic is on-point. There is much discussion right now in the blogosphere on the medical model wanting to “cure” children with DS. In Chapter 3 Dr. Jim goes over this issue related to children with communication disorders. Speech-language therapy is not a cure for children with communication disorders and shouldn’t be viewed as so. Instead, it should focus on the child’s own core strengths utilizing them to build communication in the earliest relationships they have – with their parents and caregivers.

If the end result of speech-language therapy isn’t cure, what is it? Well, what is “success” for other children as they mature? As a child graduates from school and enters the real world what is the expectation?

The ability to engage in and enjoy his or her own community.

The aim of the techniques discussed in Communicating Partners is to encourage and enrich as many different social relationships as possible (pg. 42). Dr. Jim explains the 5 characteristics of effective communication within social relationships:

1. Balance. The adult leads, the child leads. A great example of a child leading is when they act-out a routine like going to the doctor (See Violette’s video below). With their doctor kit in hand, they ask you to stick out your tongue, cough, and the like. If you don’t follow along, the opportunity for interaction disappears.

2. Activities are driven by the child’s interests and are at their ability level. In therapy, I would not expect a child who is just learning to imitate actions (clapping hands, blowing kisses) to stay interested in a more social game like Don’t Break the Ice. Think about your conversations with friends. Are you more or less likely to talk about your interests? I can talk about DS or my kids all day long, but car mechanics or roller blading…I’m out. The same is true for children. Pick something they enjoy and you’ll see more interaction.


3. Emotional attachment. This is a big one. Children communicate first with their caregivers or parents before others outside of their circle of familiarity. Think about when stranger anxiety occurs developmentally – right around the first word stage!

4. The adult responds to the child’s interests and strengths. This means imitating and interpreting both non-verbal communication, like pointing to things that interest them and showing you toys, and verbal expression such as word-like attempts (think “daw” for “dog”). Parent response is also one of the features taught in the Hanen program It Takes Two to Talk. Responding to the child, rather than directing the interaction, is key for establishing strong communication skills.

5. Finally, both the adult and the child positively influence one another. As a parent, seeing the outcomes of items 1-4 will bolster your confidence as you master these skills during your day-to-day routines.

Below is a video shared with permission by my friend Missy of Yo Mamma! Mamma! . It’s a great example of balanced interaction, response to a child’s interests, and is mutually enjoyed by Missy and Violette.

I look forward to summarizing more chapters as I move through the book. Communicating Partners is now available for loan through the Rubinstein Library for those of you in Cincinnati. However, you’ll have to wait until I’m back from vacation because that’s the copy I’m reviewing!

What I'm enjoying right now
What I’m enjoying right now

8 thoughts on “Is Speech-Language Therapy a Cure for Kids with DS?”

  1. Just explored Dr Macdonald’s website and bought his book. Thank you very much for the recommendation. He seems to have very practical answers to the language problems we are dealing with in my eleven year old with Down syndrome. Perhaps we can finally make some progress in language.

  2. Thank you for reviewing this book, Jennifer. I have known Dr. MacDonald for close to 23 years, and his material is the best, in my opinion. My son with Down syndrome is 25, and we are still good friends with him– Mark loves to visit and talk to Dr. Jim. Everyone can read his website at http://www.jamesdmacdonald.org for more information. And please join our yahoo listserv by going to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/communicating
    We discuss many things related to communication and speech.
    Barbara Mitchell

    1. Barbara – Thank you so much for your comment! I’ve never met Dr. Jim myself, but have heard wonderful things about him.
      I appreciate your linking the yahoo group for me.
      Best, Jennifer

  3. Thanks for the overview of Communicating Partners… based on what you’ve said about it, I think I have to get it. Now if only I could read it on a beach somewhere 🙂

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