When I was working on my book tonight, I was working on a section about receptive language and realized that I have never talked about this on the blog yet. This is such an important topic, and the sooner you can work on this, the better! So, here is the little excerpt that I added tonight:
I cannot speak from experience, but I would imagine it to be maddening to be able to understand everyone in the room but have them not understand you. As Nicholas has transformed from a baby to a toddler, see this happen. There is a gap between when children are able to identify their own needs and when they are able to communicate those needs to you. The time in that gap can be frustrating for the child because they just want to let you know they are hungry or thirsty or want to play, and you can’t seem to understand them. Being unable to communicate needs to others can be a source of some major behavioral issues. Anything that we as parents can do to dampen this is well worth the work.
Hypotonia, or low muscle tone, affects all muscles in the body including the muscles in your mouth. Your tongue is the major muscle that helps you make most of the sounds in speech. Due to this, people with Down Syndrome have a wide range of communicative abilities from speaking very clearly to being nonverbal, and anywhere in between.
Of course, that is not how I was reading it online when I was doing my initial research. I was reading, “people with Down Syndrome will struggle to communicate.” That sentence read to me as a fact, as it probably would have for anyone. How would they know what my child will or will not be able to do? Yes, let’s terrify the new moms even more. Thank you, internet.
When I was first signing Nicholas up for early intervention he was five months old, but still such a small baby. I thought, why would Nicholas need a speech therapist right away? What could they possibly do for him at the point? You will be really surprised at what they can do to help Nicholas be successful in his future speech. They did a lot of therapy around food, teaching him how to activate the muscles of his mouth to eat. They taught him using a variety of tools, how to use his tongue to push food over to his teeth to be chewed. They did a lot of work to get him to drink out of a toddler cup instead of a bottle. So, if you are waiting for your child to get older to get him or her into speech, don’t. There is so much work that can be done to improve your child’s mobility of the mouth. Communication is so important, and success in this area can make for one happy child.
Nicholas does not go without struggle in this area. He does not use words yet, but he will always try to mimic what we are saying if we ask him. It is always a little heart-wrenching to see his typically-developing peers talk to him expecting a response, and Nicholas being unable to give one. I would love to see him chatting back and forth with friends so that he doesn’t feel left out.
However, as he gets older, I can see that his receptive language is way more developed than his verbal skills. Receptive language skills encompass the ability to understand the language being presented to you verbally. There are so many instances where he listens to us talk and immediately reacts in a way that is appropriate to the context. For example, I can casually ask him to go get his shoes and bring them to me, at the age of two and a half, and he will go get them, bring them to me, and sit on my lap so that I can put them on. I can tell him that it is time for jammies, and he knows exactly where we keep them. I can also tell him that it’s time for bed, and he can walk himself to his crib and wait for me to lift him into it. It might not seem like much, but for someone who was groomed by the internet to think that my son’s cognitive abilities were going to be much lower, it is amazing. Even though he may not be able to communicate at the level of his peers, he definitely can understand what I am saying and base his actions on that.
In order to increase his receptive language skills, I talk out loud all day long. I could just go get his shoes myself, pick them up, bring them over to him, put him on my lap, and put them on myself without talking at all. It would probably be quicker and easier for me. Instead, I asked him to get them out loud every time we needed them over a couple of months until he knew what I meant. I said things like “let’s go get your shoes, Nicholas. We have to put them on your feet because we are leaving. We keep them in your room by your bed, so let’s go get them. Okay, one foot at a time. One, okay, other foot, please. Two! There we go! Now we are ready to leave!” It sounds absolutely insane when you are doing it, but trust me, it really pays off. When people are at my house, they are shocked when I ask Nicholas to clean up his toys because they have never heard him say a word, but he goes right into the play area and gets down to work picking up the debris of the fun day he just had.
It isn’t just your child with Down Syndrome who is going to benefit from this, but your typically-developing children as well. My daughter at twelve months old knows that when I say it is time to brush her teeth, that she needs to start making her way to the bathroom. It has also resulted in her picking up on Nicholas’s sign language! So talk out loud at every given opportunity, even if it makes you feel like a crazy person. It feels so weird to talk out loud when there are no other adults around, but your children are soaking up every single word you say.