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.

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