Communication Series: Early Language

Developing understanding
Using visual support

Children with Down’s syndrome are good visual (seeing) learners and often have poor auditory (hearing) learning skills.

Children with Down’s syndrome also take longer to process information. Visual support can help your child’s speech and language development. An added bonus of using visual information is that your child will be able to spend longer taking it in, because visual information lasts longer than auditory information. Visual supports can help your child’s understanding and also help your child to learn to communicate. There is no research to suggest that signing reduces spoken language.

Visual support can include:

  • Objects
  • Photographs
  • Pictures
  • Line drawings
  • Symbols
  • Written words
  • Gesture
  • Sign

Visual support varies in the level of understanding it requires. The easiest visual support for a child to understand is a real object because your child does not have to make a representational link. The ability to hold, feel and explore objects will help understanding. Photographs of real objects are the next level of visual support you can use. Photos are two dimensional, but give a real representation of what you are talking about. Pictures, line drawings and symbols are increasingly abstract, so it is best to use photos before you move on to line drawings and then symbols.

Gesture and sign are more momentary than objects and pictures, but they are essential in supporting your child’s language development. Gesture and sign have the added advantage that your hands are always with you throughout you and your child’s daily routine, so no extra equipment is required.


Makaton or Signalong communication systems are often used with children who have Down’s syndrome.

If you do not know how to use Makaton or Signalong, you can use natural gesture and lots of expression in your face and voice. This will also help your child to understand.

Visual supports for speech sounds

Children can also learn about speech sounds using ‘visual supports’. These include ‘Jolly Phonics’ pictures and gestures, ‘See and Learn’ speech resources, and ‘Cued Articulation’ by Jane Passy.

Written Words

Some children with Down’s syndrome can recognise written words from an early age, and will begin to learn to read.

When you use photographs, pictures, line drawings or symbols, you can write or type/print the written word underneath.

Further information

Jane Passy Cued Articulation

Jolly Learning


See and Learn


Special iApps


Early Language: Developing First Words
Early Language:'All about me' personalised books

There are many reasons why making personal books is a particularly good thing to do for children with Down’s syndrome. Sharing personal books is a fun way to engage with children. As most children understand more than they can say, using personal books can help them to communicate – they can use the book to tell people about themselves and the things they do. Sharing books can also help them learn to understand language and to practise saying words. Seeing words in print also introduces reading, which is an activity enjoyed by many people with Down’s syndrome.

Creating an ‘All about Me’ or Personalised Book can support:

  • Attention and listening
  • Vocabulary development
  • Initiating communication with others
  • Information sharing
  • Recognising written words

If your child is learning about single words, follow the instructions that follow.

You can create these on a computer, tablet and some phones. A useful app to create All About Me Personalised books is “Special Stories”.

If you don’t have access to these then printed photographs stuck onto pages with clearly, hand written words underneath are just as good.

If your child is learning about single words, make books that use single words, to practice vocabulary. It can be helpful for the vocabulary in your child’s book to overlap with the vocabulary you have chosen to target for teaching.

Early All About Me Personalised Books should include photographs of things that are important to your child, such as real life objects, toys, people, pets or animals in your child’s life. These first books designed to teach vocabulary should have a photograph and single written word on each page. Early books may only have four or six pages. As your child matures you can build up to having more photographs on each page.

As your child’s vocabulary understanding grows, you can make books that include action words as well as naming words, e.g. if your child enjoys kicking a football you could have a picture of him or her kicking a ball. To begin with you might just have the word “kicking” written under the photograph, but as your child’s language develops you could expand this into short sentences, such as “Tom is kicking the ball”.

Using All About Me/ Personalised Books

  1. Share your child’s personalised book, talk about the photographs. Say and sign the word. Point to the written words. Familiarise your child with the words in the book.
  2. See if your child can match the real object (e.g. favourite toy) to the photograph in the book. To do this have the page open with the picture of the object. Give your child two toys to choose from and see if he or she can match or point to the one in the book.
  3. See if your child can match a photograph to one in the book. To do this make a second, loose copy of each photograph. See if your child can match the loose photograph with the ones in the book.
  4. Make a second copy of the written word. Encourage your child to look at the word, then help match the word to the word in the book. Initially use words that look visually different, e.g. “dog” and “Mummy” or “ball” and “tractor”. Visually similar words can be words of a similar length or words that start or end with similar shaped letters. These are harder for your child to differentiate between.
  5. Take your child’s personalised book out and about. Encourage him or her to share it with other people, at playgroups and nursery or with family members. This will encourage your child to initiate communication, communicate independently of you and share information about what is important to her or him.
  6. When your children go to school, their personal book can be extended into a communication or conversation diary. This type of communication book is described in a separate resource [Coming soon].

What's New