Children With Down Syndrome Do Better With Speech Therapy
Down syndrome, the most common chromosomal disorder in the world, affects 1 in every 700 children, or about 6,000 annually, a figure representing a 30 percent increase since the 1970s, according to the CDC.
Our Fort Myers speech therapists routinely treat children with Down syndrome, who frequently experience challenges to speech and language development. At minimum, speech is usually delayed, though many can be taught effective sign language to help with communication the first few years and beyond.
Most children with Down syndrome can benefit from speech therapy
Exact challenges and goals for speech therapy often vary depending the severity of certain physiological traits inherent in those with Down syndrome as well as whether they have co-occurring other conditions (to which they are prone) like hearing and vision problems, epilepsy and autism.
We know there is a great deal of variability from individual to individual when it comes to Down syndrome, but research over many decades has established that speech and language development for them as a whole tend to follow the same or similar pattern.
As noted in the journal Top Language Disorders these include:
- Hearing loss in one or both ears or of varying degrees is sustained by about two-thirds of those with Down syndrome, which can significantly impeded speech and language development.
- Oral-motor function – one’s physical ability to produce speech – is impacted by certain facial structures and nerve and muscle conditions seen fairly commonly in children with Down syndrome. For example, they tend to have smaller oral cavities than is typical while also having tongues that are larger-than-average. They also have arched palates that are especially high. Boys with Down syndrome especially have issues with differences in the structure of their lips, larynx and tongue that can make it more difficult to produce speech that others can understand or that encompasses the same speed and range of motion.
- Learning delays and disabilities are common due to the fact 80 percent have moderate-range cognitive impairment. The rest are either severely cognitively impaired or have IQs that are within average range. Depending on where a child is on this scale, our Fort Myers speech therapists tend to see some trouble with short-term memory that can lead to difficulty with memorizing certain sounds which leads to reduced understanding of language and, later, reading difficulty.
- Autism prevalence of individuals with Down syndrome is higher than the general population, about 15 percent. This impacts not just social function, but can significantly impact a child’s motivation to communicate.
Even one of these aspects would likely be cause for intervention from a speech therapist, starting at an early age. The goal often with speech therapy and children with Down syndrome isn’t to “fix” these issues or ensure they catch up in lock-step with typically-developing peers. We want them to reach their own maximum potential. These issues have a way of snowballing, so often the earlier we can begin working with them, the more we can minimize the impact.
Keep in mind also: For a child with Down syndrome, receptive language (how much they understand) is usually much stronger than their expressive language (how much they can express to others). As speech therapists, we can help bridge that gap by helping them learn to communicate with gestures and sign language. Feeling “heard” is a vital reward for communication, and it can serve as a powerful motivator for many kids.
If you have questions about how we can help, our methodologies or any other aspect of our services, please give us a call. You can schedule a tour of the clinic, meet some of our therapists and hear more about our philosophy and approach.
FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
Language Characteristics of Individuals with Down Syndrome, 2009, Top Language Disorders
More Blog Entries:
Why We Still Need Autism Awareness: Perspective From Fort Myers Therapists for Children With Autism, April 2, 2019, Fort Myers Speech Therapy Blog