Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by an error in cell division resulting in an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21. Children with Down Syndrome all have some degree of learning disability, in addition to physical and medical differences that are a result of possessing this extra set of genetic material.
Children with Down Syndrome commonly face feeding, swallowing and speech challenges. Differences in the shape and physiology of the mouth area, including a high, arched palate, small upper jaw, and low muscle tone in the tongue and oral muscles all contribute to these difficulties.
Furthermore, due to their shorter and narrower ear canals, children with Down Syndrome are prone to hearing loss from common childhood ear infections – a further impediment to gaining spoken speech and language skills.
Despite this, children with the Syndrome are typically eager to communicate and connect socially. It is not uncommon for them to have a highly functional vocabulary of gestures. They have strong receptive language language skills, understanding much more than they are able to express in return. In addition, they often have good interactive social skills, and can use gestures and facial expressions to facilitate communication.
Early intervention with a specialised speech therapy program can be very effective in aiding the development of spoken language skills, helping children with Down Syndrome to fulfill their sincere desire to communicate and connect with others. As they experience a later start to vocabulary acquisition and slower growth over time, a comprehensive approach to speech therapy, in partnership with schools, is often the best approach.
In addition to arranging speech therapy, parents can assist in their child’s language development by providing diverse and inclusive social experiences. These can include participation in community activities like faith gatherings, or supporting local sports teams. Youth groups like scouts also offer new opportunities to mix socially, and practice communication skills.
It should be noted that improved speech is often a secondary outcome to a successful program with a speech pathologist. Difficulties with feeding and swallowing often appear much sooner, and therapy to aid with these issues in turn support and pave the way to more focused work on speech and language skills later on.
Do you have a child with Down Syndrome who would benefit from a program of speech and language therapy? Contact Stephanie Eber, Speech Pathologist, to arrange a free 20-minute consultation to discuss how she can support your child.