Focus on Communication and the Young Child with Down Syndrome
All children who enrol in Kindergarten are still developing their language skills. Over their two years in Kindergarten, all students will improve their abilities to describe their feelings, use appropriate vocabulary for academic topics, and state their point of view.
Students with Down syndrome, though, have unique receptive and expressive communication challenges and a consistent need for support with communication. The good news is that, in a stimulating therapeutic environment, three-, four- and five-year old students with Down syndrome can experience a notable growth spurt in their language skills.
The following techniques, used both at home and at school, can contribute to a smooth transition to the communication demands of Full-Day Kindergarten for a young child with Down syndrome:
- Incorporate sign language (ASL or invented) and pair it with spoken words [i.e., “Mmm … what a nice snack you have! This is my favourite… apple slices!” (adult makes the sign for “apple”)]
- Supplement speech with gestures [i.e., “Which paint brush do you want to use, the long (gesture or sign) one or the short (gesture or sign) one?”]
- Read stories one-on-one with the child and review important words [i.e., adult reads: “Good night moon and the red balloon. Aamar, can you touch the moon (gesture or sign)… yes – it’s in the sky, isn’t it? Now touch the balloon (gesture or sign)… good – what colour is that?”]
- Direct the child’s attention to interesting things and narrate with a focus on key terminology [i.e., “Look at Gurpreet. He’s building a tower! It’s getting really tall (gesture or sign)! Let’s count … one … two … three … four blocks! I wonder if he will add another block? … What do you want to do now: build (gesture or sign) or knock down (gesture or sign)? ………. Knock down (gesture or sign)? Good … I’ll build (gesture or sign), you count and then you can knock them down (gesture or sign)!”]
- Leave communication gaps that require student input [i.e., rather than just handing the student a ball at play time, ECE asks, “What do you want to play with?” and waits until the student responds, with gesture or words]
- Employ extended wait times to allow the child time to formulate a verbal response without additional talk [i.e., teacher asks student, “What should we all do before we eat snack, Esme?” ….. pause of 7 seconds …… “What do we do before eating?” …… pause of 8 seconds …… Esme: “Wash hands.”]
- Respect home languages. There are many examples of bilingual children who have Down syndrome. Communication in two languages offers cognitive advantages to all students.
Transition plans and IEPs for children with Down syndrome who are entering kindergarten must acknowledge the greatest challenge these children face: their communication skills lag behind those of their peers and require focussed development and support. For more information, consult Fidler, D. J. (2005). The Emerging Down syndrome Behavioral Phenotype in Early Childhood: Implications for Practice. Infants and Young Children, 18(2), 86–103.