|1. Pronouns||6. Temporal Concepts|
|2. Negatives||7. Developing Vocabulary|
|3. Conjunctions||8. Developing Story Telling Skills|
|4. Questions||9. Shape Coding|
|5. Tense||10. Asking For Help|
The following activities aim to help your child to develop the use of pronouns, for example:
‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’, ‘his’, ‘him’, ‘her’
The games are easy to play. Choose the ones your child enjoys and have fun playing them together.
Try to set aside a short amount of time each day playing the games. Your child may find them difficult to begin with. Many children require lots of repetition before they will learn and remember pronouns.
Being able to understand and use negatives is a powerful skill for any child. ‘No!’ is often one of the first words children acquire. As well as being able to say ‘No’ and use negatives, it is important for children to understand negatives in an instruction, for example:
- ‘We are not going to the park.’
- ‘Who’s not listening?’
- ‘Who’s not finished their work?’
Children with Down’s syndrome often miss this important piece of information, so the distinction needs to be taught, practised and emphasised in everyday communication.
In everyday life, draw attention to negative words by signing and putting emphasis on them in your speech. Grammatical negatives are small and subtle in the sentence so easily missed, but they convey important information that significantly changes the meaning of what is said.
Conjunctions are the little words that connect a sentence together. These words are sometimes called connectors. Conjunctions include the words ‘and, then, so, but, because, when, while, until, etc.’
Children with Down’s syndrome often use single words, short phrases and simple sentences to communicate, and do not use conjunctions. Conjunctions are an important part of grammar, and are useful in developing more complex language for sequencing, storytelling and communicating greater amounts of information.
Like many parts of grammar there is a developmental sequence, and children often understand and use conjunctions in a particular order. For this reason, it is a good idea to consider your child’s understanding and use of conjunctions in the following order:
- and, or, but
- because, to
- until, when, after
There are many types of questions and there is a developmental order in which children learn to understand and answer them.
All children confuse verb tense when they start using verbs. This is a typical part of development. Tense can be difficult for children with Down’s syndrome to learn because it is a very subtle part of grammatical structure. It is easily missed, particularly if your child has hearing difficulties. Regular past tense, which is when a verb ends in ‘ed’, is easier to remember and most children will use regular past tense for all verbs when they begin to differentiate verb endings. Irregular verbs come later. At the end of this section is a list of regular or irregular past tense verbs. You can select the ones you want to use for some of the activities described below.
Always sign the action word as you say it. Some sign language can indicate the verb tense, but don’t worry about using these with your child. If you are using a basic sign or gestural system, then sign and say the verb but emphasise the tense when you are talking or remodeling for your child.
To increase awareness of past tense, talk about what you did yesterday or earlier today. Model the use of past tense, emphasising the past tense structures slightly. If your child tries to use past tense, encourage him by giving lots of praise. If he uses past tense incorrectly, remodel and reinforce the correct form. For example:
- “We walking to the park.”
- “That’s right! We walked to the park.”
Temporal (time based) concepts often develop after prepositions. They are important words and understanding them will help your child follow instructions, particularly in the school environment. When teaching temporal concepts, always sign as well as say the word. Use visual cues and move around to help your child learn these concepts. Temporal concepts convey meaning about position, for example, ‘first’, ‘last’, ‘before’ and ‘after’.
All children’s vocabulary continues to develop throughout their life. Children with Down’s syndrome may require specific vocabulary to be taught, because they may struggle to pick up new vocabulary in everyday life. This may be because of auditory/visual processing, memory and/or physical difficulties. As well as needing more support to continue developing their vocabulary throughout life, children with Down’s syndrome are more likely to have difficulty remembering and retrieving vocabulary for the words they know.
Developing Story Telling Skills
Research has shown that storytelling, or narrative ability, is closely linked to academic success. As well as academic success, narrative ability enables children to communicate more independently, and share information with parents, friends and teachers. A child needs to be able to ‘talk’ a story before she can ‘write’ a story. Children with Down’s syndrome may find it harder to tell stories verbally. Using pictures, sign and gesture, acting out stories, organising written words into sentences, and sequencing sentences into stories will all help develop narrative ability. Stories do not have to be fictional or in book form. Story telling includes telling a friend about a film you’ve just seen, what you did at the weekend, or something that happened in school.
The following activities will help develop your child’s narrative ability:
- Encourage your child to listen to simple stories. Early stories can be describing picture books. As your child matures, stories might be fictional, like fairy tales, or factual books, for example about how things are made.
- Talk about the structure of stories with your child. Do not specifically ask the questions below, but use these to help you draw your child’s attention to the different elements of the story by commenting and talking about what is happening.
- What happens at the beginning, middle and end?
- Where does the story take place?
- Who are the main characters in the story?
- What important events take place?
- What problems do the characters encounter?
- How do the characters overcome their problems?
- What are the consequences of the characters actions?
- Act out stories. Play at being different characters, dress up, use objects as props and talk about the sequence of events.
- As your child matures, and when he is familiar with a particular story, you can begin to be more specific and ask questions about the different elements of the story. You can ask about who, what, where, when, why and the characters feelings, depending on your child’s level of ability. You can use picture cards and drawings to prompt and help your child to respond without always relying on speech.
- Sequencing is an important part of storytelling. Section F3, Increasing Talking has more information on sequencing. When thinking about storytelling, encourage your child to tell, draw or sequence pictures to show the beginning, middle and end of the story.
- As your child’s storytelling ability and awareness improves, encourage her to tell other people about a favourite book or film, or what she has done at school or at the weekend. The ‘Special Stories’ App summarised in Section N2, Useful Apps: School Age is a great way of involving your child in creating stories to tell her news.
Shape Coding was developed by a speech and language therapist called Susan Ebbels. Shape Coding explicitly teaches rules of grammar using shapes. Shape Coding enables you and your child to review what he has said or written using shapes, colours and arrows, so that it is easier to visualise the grammar and structure of language, both spoken and/or written.
In Shape Coding:
Colours underline the individual words.
Shapes go around phrases and sentences.
Arrows demonstrate tense.
Specific types of words are highlighted by underlining them in specific colours. The colours used by Shape Coding are:
|Noun – RED||object words|
|Determinants/ possessive pronouns – PINK||used in place of names and object words|
|Verbs – BLUE||doing words|
|Adjectives – GREEN||describing words, e.g. happy, hard, colours|
|Prepositions – YELLOW||positional words, e.g. on, in, through|
|Adverb – BROWN||describe doing words, e.g. quickly, carefully|
|Coordinating conjunction – PURPLE||linking words, e.g. and, but, or|
|Subordinating conjunction – ORANGE||linking words, e.g. because, if|
Phrases are grouped together with shapes and linked with a colour, a question and a symbol, for example verb phrases go in a hexagonal shape, feelings in a ‘cloud’ shape and positional phrases in a semicircle.
This sounds complicated, but the system can be very useful for children with Down’s syndrome, particularly if they attend mainstream secondary school. This system can help children access more complex language structures to answer questions, aid understanding, and develop more complex spoken and written language.
Shape Coding should be delivered by a speech and language therapist or professional trained in using this system. There are lots of online resources and videos explaining how to use Shape Coding if you want to find out more information about this system.
Asking For Help
Your child may be reluctant or find it difficult to ask for help because of:
- Delayed speech and language skills
- Poor speech intelligibility
- Social awareness (e.g. not wanting to ask in front of peers, or not wanting to get into trouble)
- Not realising that she hasn’t understood
Use scenarios where you know your child needs assistance. and wait to be asked for help. For example:
|Ask your child to go and get the fruit bowl which is kept out of reach. Depending on his speech, language and signing skills:||
|Ask your child to write down some words, but do not give her a pen and paper.||
Ways you can encourage your child to ask for clarification include:
- hand over hand signing
- say, ‘You don’t understand? You can say, “I don’t understand” and I can help you.’
- ask, ‘Did you hear me? Oh! The music was too loud. You say, “The music was too loud. I didn’t hear you. Tell me again, Mummy.’
Children respond surprisingly well to this technique – they are able to practice the language needed to ask for help and increase independence.
- prompt your child to tell you what she thinks you were asking. If she has not understood, then clarify for her.
In social situations where your child may be too self-conscious to ask for help, create opportunities for him to ask discretely.
Ask other children and family members to model how to ask for help.
Remember to praise your child when she uses questions and asks for clarification.
The aim in encouraging your child to ask for help is to empower him to help himself, and to take greater responsibility for managing and coping with his difficulties without an adult always pre-empting his needs.