Two R’s for the non-verbal child


Why use the written word when my child can’t talk? Johanna Aiyathurai on supporting language skills for young children with Down’s syndrome.

A good base in receptive and expressive language opens up the wider curriculum and builds independent learning skills. This is uncontroversial, and it’s true for the spoken word, the written word, and symbolised communication. Having a solid foundation undoubtedly unlocks access to a multitude of teaching strategies in later years. Every member of staff working with a child with Down’s syndrome should access specialised training to properly support the child’s learning.

Why place so much focus on the written word? Because the evidence supports it. Even with very young children, using the written word can help speech and language development. This is partly due to the relative visual learning strengths usually displayed by children with Down’s syndrome. Auditory skills and working memory may be areas of difficulty, but our children find learning through seeing much more accessible. It can be hard for a child to hear the word and understand how that word or sentence goes together. It is much easier for them to see the word to free up their working memory and support their auditory difficulties. This allows them to start understanding the rules of language and the structure of words. 

■ Clap the words.

Supporting the child to read along the sentence allows them to use their visual strengths to see how the words go together in the sentence, while giving them the opportunity for repetition and practice. This process means that they are more likely to store the rules of how the words go together. While it may feel a little unusual to start sharing the written word so early, it is building the skills and strategies that they will use throughout their education and into adulthood.

Johanna Aiyathurai
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Johanna is the CEO of Learn and Thrive, a new charity which empowers learners with Down’s syndrome and other learning needs, through digital learning tools and video resources.


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