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.
Our FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapists must admit: We were a little heartbroken upon learning there would be no more Sweethearts Conversation Candy Hearts this Valentine’s Day (MISS U!). In addition to the fact they can be used in a bunch of fun kids’ speech-language therapy exercises, we had a great idea for a special speech therapy line: TALK 2 ME. I LUV SPCH. WORD UP. LETS LINGO. I HEAR U. SLPZROCK. Not to worry, though – our speech therapists have other ways of making you talk…
In the spirit of spreading the love (despite being candy heart-less), our speech therapists are sharing some of our favorite positive affirmations for kids. Positive affirmations are the kind of declarations that go a step beyond praise and shine a light on something that is special and inherent in that child. Instead of simply, “Nice work!” we say, “You are a hard worker!” Instead of, “Good job on that one!” we say, “You are so brave to try new things.” Rather than just, “Cool picture!” we might say, “You have such a creative mind!”
Praise and compliments obviously are great too, but positive affirmation is more specific. It shines a light on something that is both inherent and special to that person. It acknowledges the challenge and validates the effort. Positive affirmation can help a child gain the confidence to keep going – even when it gets hard. Research shows that children who receive regular positive affirmations will believe, internalize and be motivated by it. In speech therapy, we often see them excel farther and faster.
The positive affirmation boost is backed by extensive research. One analysis published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that children with cancer who practiced self-affirmation were overall more optimistic and coped better, achieved goals faster and ultimately had better health outcomes. Another study by psychology professors Carnegie Mellon University found that when people are under pressure, they can actually improve their ability to problem-solve by using positive self-affirmations. And a brain scan study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience established that people who practice self affirmation had higher activity levels in areas of the brain associated with reward.
Most any Fort Myers speech-language pathologist will tell you one of the first questions families of young children ask when inquiring whether certain missed milestones are cause for concern: “What if my child doesn’t respond to his name?”
It’s impossible to give a blanket answer because every child develops at a uniquely individual pace. (It’s also physicians – usually specialists – responsible for the actual diagnosis.) That said, a long-time speech-language pathologist will likely agree: If your child doesn’t respond to his name by the time they turn 1-year-old, it could indicate a developmental delay that requires action. You’ll want to alert your child’s primary care physician and discuss whether the concern warrants referrals for closer evaluation by specialists.
Responding to one’s name is a critical building block of functional communication. This wouldn’t be just a single instance when he couldn’t tear his attention from a riveting show or “selective hearing” in a moment of intense fun. This would be an issue that is consistent and noticeable (at least by you).
What Child’s Failure to Respond to Name Could Mean
Children learn speech and language through immersion. They closely watch your lips and hear the sounds while working to grasp the meaning. When there is a delay or disability that impedes that process, FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapists can help – but that doesn’t mean you should stop talking.
A recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience reveals that when adults regularly engage young children in conversation, those kids will have stronger connections between the two developing regions of the brain known to be critical to language development.
This discovery held true even when researchers controlled for parental education and income, meaning engaging your children from a young age can help give them a language skills boost regardless of socioeconomic status.This is significant because many prior studies dating back to the early 1990s have established a so-called “word gap” when between children of disparate socioeconomic means. Those who grow up in lower-income households tend to have heard an estimated 30 million fewer words in their lives compared to classmates of more affluent means by the time they reach the ages of 4-6. Thusfar, it’s not been proven that the link is causal, but even if it were, this new research suggests to our pediatric Fort Myers speech therapists it can be overcome when parents devote the time to chatting their kids up at every opportunity.
Pediatric speech and language therapy is hard work – best achieved through fun-and-games.
Adults tend to disregard play as a silly childhood indulgence. However, consensus among speech therapists AND child development researchers is playtime is pivotal in speech-language progress – and overall development. In fact, almost all learning in those first five years occurs in play-based exploration. Further, these skills take root much faster when adults actively participate in child-led play.
FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapists have a treasure trove of toys, games, crafts and other fun things to encourage play, which directly spurs expressive and receptive language development. We’re also constantly on the lookout for new ideas. Sometimes we even make our own! Sometimes playful interest is captured in the simplest forms, like mushing food, making a paper bag rattle or blowing bubbles.
Speech therapists at FOCUS Fort Myers study for years – first in the classroom and then for the rest of our careers in practice at our clinic – learning ways to help children master key communication skills, from appropriate conversation to phonological awareness to comprehension. We use all sorts of tools to make that happen – including puppets, games, puzzles, swings, crafts – even a ball pit! But the most effective tool? Parents!
Parental engagement in helping carry over these same strategies with their child undeniably results in better, faster progress. (And the earlier we/ you get started, the better!)
We can cite countless examples that have us convinced, but it’s backed up by peer-reviewed research too.
Parental Involvement Helps Children Make Faster Speech Therapy Progress
The American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology followed the effects of parental involvement in language intervention on children between 1.5-to-5-years-old with language impairments that were both primary (language only) and secondary (accompanied by cognitive impairment or disability). Researchers reviewed 18 previous studies examining how well children did when speech therapists offered parents specific strategies to work with their kids outside the clinic setting.
When it comes to speech therapy, there are two general schools of thought: Early Intervention and Watch and Wait. Increasingly, doctors, specialists and teachers are on board with what our FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapists have been saying for years: Early intervention is key!
You may be familiar with the legend of Albert Einstein’s childhood speech delay leading to his parents’ concern he might not be bright. This purported speech delay of an unequivocal genius lends inspiration to many who struggle with similar issues. Unfortunately, it’s also given families of “late talkers” validation for the “Watch and Wait Approach” – which is typically not what we advise.
Until fairly recently, most pediatricians were content to let parents wait before seeking assistance with their children’s speech concerns, often not pressing for speech therapy until the child was school-age. That is changing – much to our enthusiasm! Clinicians are increasingly aware that speech impairments in children can lead to a greater likelihood of social struggles and reading problems. The younger the child, the more malleable their brains, and the better outcomes we have.
Smartphones in the hands of little ones is generally frowned upon, and usually for good reason. Researchers have linked excess screen time to speech delays, stunted socialization and repetitive motion “tech ache.” BUT – it’s not all bad.
In speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral therapy and sometimes even physical therapy, we’ve found at FOCUS Fort Myers that smartphones can have some pretty amazing applications – and we’re discovering new uses all the time! (We LOVE when parents share their own ideas too!)
There is no getting around the fact these small, glowing boxes are an integral part of our daily lives, with approximately 92 million smartphones in the U.S. – a figure that’s still growing. Limits on screen time are important – necessary even (and, let’s be honest, not just for kids). But our FOCUS occupational, behavioral and speech therapists are embracing the many ways this technology has become a key tool in achieving occupational, behavior and speech therapy goals.
Power to the puppets!
For children with a range of difficulties and disabilities, our speech and occupational therapists in Fort Myers have seen striking benefits in working with puppets during our sessions with kids. Puppets, first and foremost, are fun (who doesn’t love Sesame Street?). But they can also help us engage children in ways they might otherwise struggle, namely in peer-to-peer and child-to-adult interactions. They can also help kids better understand certain functional roles and responsibilities in everyday life.
Puppets can be an entertaining yet powerful visual to help us illustrate action-word vocabulary or spatial concepts. As speech and occupational therapists, we can use puppets to help teach the rules of conversation, general social interaction and causal connections. A puppet might “forget” they shouldn’t interrupt or talk so loudly or push to the front of the line. Puppets can be frustrated, sad or angry about something, and it allows the child to explore those complicated feelings and situations without being overwhelmed – because puppets are inherently silly too. They also tend to be more effective than a two-dimensional picture because they rely on visual, audible and tactile senses.
Communication delays occur when a child doesn’t meet key milestones that would reflect typical speech development.
For example, by 8 months, a child should be responding to their name and recognizing themselves in a mirror. By 12 months, they should be saying a couple of words, recognizing familiar sounds and pointing to objects. By 18 months, they should have 10-to-20 words and start to combine two word phrases (i.e., “all gone,” “bye-bye, momma,” etc.). (All this is established by researchers at The University of Michigan, and these milestones are pretty standard and widely accepted.)
If your child isn’t meeting these milestones, our pediatric speech therapists would encourage you to raise the concern with your pediatrician or seek a free consultation from one of our therapists to determine if intervention may be necessary. The effect of a communication delay goes far beyond just not being able to say words. Too often, communication delays spur behavior problems.
Really if you think about it, behavior IS communication – perhaps the most basic form of it. Tempers, tears, tantrums – even if it seems nonsensical to adults – these are ways children communicate their needs to adults. As they grow older and their communication skills expand, they no longer need to resort to those behaviors to ensure their needs are met. They can point to objects. They can request things. They can say no. They can understand there are times they must wait (even if they don’t like it). Children with communication delays – those who are impaired in their ability to communicate with others and to understand when people are communicating with them – are going to lag in developing those same coping mechanisms, and that means the behavior problems will continue. Speech therapy and ABA (applied behavioral analysis) can help them catch up.