Down syndrome or Trisomy 21 is a genetic disorder. It is the most common genetic disorder diagnosed at birth in the US. Those with Down syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21. The extra genetic material may cause the individual to have –
- Eyes that slant upwards
- Small ears with folded top
- Small mouths
- Small nose with a flattened bridge
- Small hands with very short fingers
- Short neck
- 2 palm creases instead of 3
- Short stature
- Loose joints
A majority of all children with Down syndrome also exhibit –
- Hearing problems
- Vision problems
- Speech problems
- Learning disorders
Since it is a genetic disorder, there is no cure for Down syndrome. However, your child’s speech and communication abilities can improve a great deal with speech therapy.
How Can Speech Therapy Help Treat Down Syndrome?
A speech-language pathologist (SLP) does a complete assessment of the child to identify their strengths and weaknesses in communication. The SLP will evaluate their receptive and expressive language skills, play skills, oral skills, syntax, social skills, and oral-motor strength and planning abilities.
Your child’s treatment plan will depend upon the thorough evaluation report. The symptoms of Down syndrome will vary between two children. Therefore, their treatment plans cannot be identical. A speech therapist will determine the specific activities & speech exercises that can benefit a child with Down syndrome.
It is always better to speak with a speech therapist or SLP before getting started with speech therapy exercises for children with Down syndrome at home.
Here in this post, we will shed light on the most common speech therapy exercises for kids with Down syndrome that are frequently recommended by experienced speech-language pathologists around the world. Read on.
Speech Therapy Exercise #1: Teach Them Simple Gestures
Your child's ability to understand and communicate may surprise you if you begin by teaching them simple signs and gestures.
If your child has Down syndrome, they may be a late-talker. You can begin early intervention by teaching them simple yet clear signs for everyday objects & activities. For example, you can teach them gestures for when they are hungry, or when they have to use the toilet.
Repeat or mirror the gesture after your child with verbal descriptions. For example, if your child makes the gesture of "hungry," go ahead and say, "Oh, you're hungry! Let's go grab some snacks."
It is one of the easiest speech therapy exercises for children with Down syndrome who exhibit signs of speech delay.
Don’t forget to praise them whenever they use these gestures correctly.
Speech Therapy Exercise #2: Begin With Singing
Singing a song with your child can help motivate them to vocalize with you. Choose a song they like or start with something simple like “Wheels of the Bus.”
Make hand gestures and use models while singing with your child.
Starting with a song can provide a clear cue that their therapy session is about to begin. It will also add the much-needed fun element to a structured learning environment for a young child with Down syndrome.
Speech Therapy Exercise #3: Take Turns
For this exercise, you may need more than one person. Sit around a table and use a toy to teach your child to take turns.
Give the toy to your child and say, "It's now your turn to play." After a minute, prompt your child to pass the toy to someone else and say, "It's now Ms. X's turn to play."
Let Miss X play with the toy, pass it back to your child, and so on.
Turn-taking is a crucial skill for all children since it can be the foundation of developing communication and social skills.
Turn-taking activities support the attention span and augment receptive language skills in children with Down syndrome. Your child will learn to wait for their turn, share, make choices, play games, and solve problems by learning this simple exercise.
Speech Therapy Exercise #4: Recognizing Facial Expressions
Children with Down syndrome may struggle to express how they feel. Working with mood boards or picture cards showing different emotions can help your child identify and express how they feel.
Use simple pictures or even emojis to signify “happy,” “sad,” “excited,” “angry,” or “disappointed.” Label these pictures or cards.
Once your child can identify their emotions, encourage them to link an experience with the feeling. For example, your child points at "happy." You can prompt them to expand on the feeling by saying, "Are you happy because we got ice cream today?"
Do not fill in the gaps for your child. Let them explain why they are happy or sad. You can correct them if they misplace an emotion or misidentify a feeling.
Speech Therapy Exercise #5: Learning The Simple Words
Every child struggles to learn and say their first few words. If you are a parent of someone with Down syndrome, you must be patient since your child may need extra time and impetus.
Use turn-taking games and activities to teach your child simple words like "up," "down," "big," "small," "start," "stop," "in," and "out." Using an interactive toy your child likes can help you and your family teach them simple but necessary words.
For more ideas on how to improve your child’s vocabulary through turn-taking activities for children with Down syndrome, you can consult one of our speech therapists.
Speech Therapy Exercise #6: Teaching Simple Instruction Sequences
Merely expanding your child’s vocabulary isn’t enough. Your child needs to understand the meaning of these simple words when they are used as instructions.
Just like the previous activity for children with Down syndrome, you can use some interactive toys to convey simple, one to two-step instructions to your child, such as, "start, pass the toy to your left" or "go up and stop."
This exercise for children with Down syndrome will improve their receptive abilities, and problem-solving skills and help them learn how to follow simple instructions in daily life.
Speech Therapy Exercise #7: Blowing Bubbles
Most children love to blow bubbles! So, why not turn this into a useful speech therapy exercise for children with Down syndrome?
Blowing bubbles will help your child strengthen the muscles of their mouth. At the same time, it will give them some time to unwind between two or more speech therapy exercises.
Blowing bubbles helps in the development of oral-motor skills necessary for clear speech. It will teach your child to round their lips, retract their tongue and blow out air with control.
Speech Therapy Exercise #8: Model Speech
You can be the best teacher your child has at home. Therefore, you should speak clearly, steadily, and correctly at home.
Speak in a clear voice, enunciate new words, and remember to hold a steady pace. Don't rush through your speech. Let your child hear what model speech sounds like.
Young children with Down syndrome are more likely to emulate what they hear. If they are trying to mimic your speech and make some mistakes, correct them gently once in a while. Don't scold them or shut them down.
Speak to your child’s speech therapist if your child is having recurring troubles with particular consonants or omitting parts of words regularly.
Speech Therapy Exercise #9: Read To Them Daily
Reading to your child before bedtime is a great way to boost their attention span and listening skills. Pick a book with lots of illustrations and pop-ups for each day's reading.
Try to dedicate at least 15 minutes each day to this exercise. Read aloud. Ask your child for their input.
It will stimulate your child's cognitive skills and improve their communication skills significantly.
Children with Down syndrome experience speech delays. Speech therapy recommended by skilled SLPs can help your child talk.
You can teach your child speech & language skills through simple, daily activities discussed above. However, consulting an SLP is always advisable before chalking up a therapy schedule for your child.
An experienced speech therapist can help rule out hearing problems and other oral-motor disorders before beginning speech therapy.