Thursday, August 6, 2015

Speech and early literacy fun

James’ speech and communication continues to be something he really enjoys. For his quarterly evaluation, which happens every three months, and for funsies, I listed all of the words/word approximations that he has...and got to 65! All of which he has worked incredibly hard for. Most favorite and most frequently heard is “no.” :) Our Speech therapist does a combo of directed speech play and just kind of following his lead to incorporate words in his daily routines, and we follow suit throughout the day. With his two-year-old self, the strategy of following his lead works especially well right now.

For most multisyllabic words, he still picks out one syllable or sound to say (e.g., “za” for pizza).  With the low muscle tone, many times it’s harder to understand children with Down syndrome, but the more practice they get, the better. We’re working to say the full word and to also begin to say two word phrases.  I put together something called a pacing guide (it matched my crafting abilities) to help him visually see the two parts to a word.

I just point to each sticker as I model saying each syllable. This can also help with when we expand to two words, and we can add stickers, as needed! 

Kids who have Down syndrome tend to have stronger visual memories over auditory memories, and this definitely holds true for James. So we’ve been taking advantage of his visual memory by doing a lot of speech practice with pictures and the accompanying printed words.  See and Learn has some great flashcard sets and apps, and he loves them. 

With the strong visual memory, reading can also be a strength. James has started naming some of his alphabet letters when he sees them and/or verbalizing the sounds that they make. The LeapFrog Phonics Magnetic Letter set was probably one of the best 15 dollars we’ve spent—he loves that bus! We can play with letters together, we use it for PT to stand, and because the bus has a magnet where the letters are to be placed (making it less frustrating), it’s helped with his fine motor skills, which has then transferred to his puzzles. Though they used to be on the hate list, he actually doesn’t mind puzzles now. At least with a little bribing. Thanks, Bus!

The letter X is hilarious!

And for fun and because he doesn’t seem to mind, we started working a little bit on recognizing sight words. Again with the visual memory strength, emphasizing sight words will probably be key to his reading success. We try to inundate him with print and language through reading together and having pictures and words paired together, but I zoned in on super familiar sight words for more direct instruction—Daddy, Mom, and James to be exact. I guide him to match together the word flashcards, which are underneath the pictures of us. With enough practice, he'll start to identify and read the words without any picture help.

Eventually, we'll use those words to make some early reading books with simple, predictable sentences (e.g., I see Mom. I see Daddy.) that we can read together. Lots of these ideas are from Teaching Reading to Children with Down Syndrome:  A Guide for Parents and Teachers by Patricia Logan Oelwein.  Though a little older (written in the 90’s) there’s some good stuff in there.

And of course- we only do these activities in small chunks and only when it’s fun! Last thing I want him to do is to start hating words and reading when it’s something that he enjoys so very much.

A couple of people who have walked similar paths have also just suggested labeling toys and things around the house with index cards to make it even more print-rich. They’ve seen this visual support really strengthen their children’s speech skills and hopefully overall literacy skills as well. This has been on my to-do list for a while. One day.

I am reminded continuously that practice does indeed make perfect. The more we do something in small chunks, even when it seems completely ineffective, the more we see results. This progress usually happens over a long period of time, but totally worth the wait. Just today, I watched him independently pick up letters for his alphabet train, name them excitedly, turn them so the letters were upright, and place them properly in the train to hear what it had to say about each letter. A few months ago, he would have just shaken the letters back and forth or banged them together and called it a day!
There's no way I'm pretending to play with the train for your posed picture right now. Also, you put the Z next to G. That makes no sense. 

Keep working and playing hard, my friend. You’re doing great.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Moving right along

James took his first crawling steps on all fours mid-January, and we were absolutely thrilled.  We piled his favorite toys on top of benches and other things just out of reach, so he was motivated to stay on his hands and knees instead of going to his favorite, army crawling. However, we knew he was bound to come up with something more creative than just traditional crawling.

Which brings us to the half crawl, half side scoot!

Though less efficient than army crawling, this turned into James’ preferred method of getting around.  We figured it was because he always liked to get into a sitting position on his left side, and the side scoot allowed him to do that immediately.

It drove us all a little nuts, especially me (and James), since I was mostly just chasing him around on all fours, cramping his style, blocking him from sitting on the left side. One time, he stopped in his tracks to turn around and sign “stop” to me.  Sorry, buddy, not this time…but way to use that sign appropriately!

His PT also recommended using a hand towel to sort of scoop under his chest and lift him up, keeping him on all fours. He didn’t mind this so much at first, since it seemed a little less invasive than someone’s hands on his hips. But when the towel lost its magic, we had to entice him with a favorite toy across the room, and when he went for it, quickly wrap the towel underneath him. It didn’t take him too long to begin to avoid the trap, but the strategy definitely did help when we didn't overuse it!

Every time we were with him on all fours, we also just guided his body to get into sitting on his right side to sort of even out the crawling.  Throughout this process, we reminded ourselves that the primary goal of his physical therapy is not necessarily to accelerate his movement, but to make sure he’s not developing compensations in order to help his overall gross motor movement for the long haul.'re calling my side scoot a compensation?? YOU try it!

We slowly started to see more all fours and less scoot-crawling, and now, he’s starting to go distances on hands and knees without any prompting!  He has a sibling coming in August, and with my expanding mid-section, I have to say that I am thankful for less all fours chasing these days. It’s also so gratifying to see him motivated to go, go go on his own.

We continue to work on his climbing (hooray for stairs and obstacle courses!), standing, squatting, and pulling to stand, all often involving goldfish crackers, bubbles, or kid music videos.  And since he’s been crawling more traditionally, he’s starting to pull to stand from the floor on his own! We were thrilled this week when he crawled from his room to the bathtub, pulled up on the bathtub, and was trying to figure out how to climb in. 

His hard work is paying off. Maybe it’s finally time to baby proof. J

As a good friend told him, go get into trouble, James. You’ve earned it!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Our Funny Valentine

Kids are quirky, and our almost two year old is no exception.  He makes us belly laugh every day.

I’ve heard that naps are wasted on the young, but not on James. This kid loves his sleep.  Whenever he sees his blanket or puppy that goes to sleep with him, he blows it a kiss and then promptly pops his thumb in his mouth.  Sometimes after a nap, it takes him a few minutes to be willing to part with his blanket.  When we ask if he wants to come with us and play, we get a “no” and a dive toward his precious snuggle things.  If he was able to climb right now, I’m pretty sure he would climb into his crib rather than out.

Throwback to a year ago when he was enjoying his nap in a super comfy position

In the morning when he wakes up, we’re often greeted first with his hearty “ho ho ho” laugh, and then “bye.”  At first, we thought he was kicking us out to get some more sleep, but we’ve learned that “bye” is currently both a farewell and a greeting--like "yassou" or "aloha." :)

After the “bye” we get a fist pump and “ts,” which means “dance” or “song” in James’ language. We’ll hear this request all day long, and he loves to begin his day with it. Favorite songs these days include anything by Laurie Berkner or Larry the Cucumber, “Wheels on the Bus,” “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “Shake it Off” by T Swift, Pharrell’s “Happy,” and specifically the Ludacris part in Justin Bieber’s “Baby.” When he knows Luda’s coming, it completely overwhelms his little self with joy.

Other things that bring James joy—finding the “moon” in his books. He always points it out (“oo!”), and likes to make sure you are aware as well by guiding your finger to it with his little hand.  He also enjoys hugging stuffed animals and feeding them cookies, telling monkeys to stop jumping on the bed, saying A-“men” repeatedly in church, tomatoes (so many tomatoes), Elmo, throwing blocks, dance parties, and vacuum cleaners. 

Meeting Elmo with one of his best buds
Sharing a snack

Speaking of vacuums, I made the mistake last night of forgetting to put ours away when it was right next to his time out spot.  The entire minute, he just stared at it and told it to “go,” completely distracting him from his wrongdoing.

More and more word approximations are emerging, but our signs are still going strong, and he’s started making them up! His two latest are crossing his arms for “pretzels” and holding up his hand like he’s carrying a pizza for “pizza,” accompanied by a “za!”  I don’t know that he’s actually seen or paid attention to a non-stick form of pretzel or someone carrying a pizza on the shoulder, but they both make perfect sense. We now have requests for pretzels during breakfast (and tomatoes…always tomatoes).

Happy Valentine’s Day, James.  Love you more than words can describe.