In our opinion communication and speech is the most important field of Early Intervention because we think it is the most important factor for Elias’ ability to lead a relatively independent life in future. At the same time, it seems to us that the institutional Early Intervention here in Germany doesn’t put any main focus on it.
As described on Elias’ main page we found it very important that from the beginning Elias learns that he has an influence on his environment by communicating. Therefore we didn’t only speak, sing and laugh to him but also paid much attention to his noises and other expressions and answered them intensely, so that some kind of ‘conversation’ took place.We found an American webpage with the additional offer to buy some material there that we found really useful in this context. Easy methods of communication with children are shown and trained there. We ordered “Before Speech” and “First Words”, practical guides for preparing and motivating children to talk, by James MacDonald. These manuals are some kind of diary with easy exercises both in watching the child and doing activities .It was useful for us to style our behaviour towards Elias more conciously and check it. Here’s the adress of the institution of Dr. MacDonald: Communicating Partners. There is a mailing-list offered, too.
Children with DS often have low muscle tone also in the mouth area. Therefore breastfeeding is especially important for them. Elias was fully breastfed for 6 months, then partly until his 19. month. In his 7. month it took him longer than his siblings to get used to other food. Fortunately our physical therapist draw our attention to the sensitive period for solid food at this age and to the fact that difficulties can appear lateron when this phase is missed. Many eating or chewing movements are also important for later articulation. So at that time we really looked after offering other than pureed food and it fortunately payed off. When Elias – some time later than children without DS – got some teeth, he was able to chew very well!
Unfortunately, from this time on – in the process of stoping to breastfeed him – Elias’ tongue showed up more often in the front of his mouth. Our physical therapist showed us some exercises for mouth motor skills by Castillo Morales, which we applied regularily. Besides we taught Elias to push his tongue into his mouth saying: ‘Where is your tongue?’. But we weren´t really content about it – we thought about trying out a palate panel when his teeth would allow it. In the meantime Elias speech got more and more, and his tongue has not much of a chance to show up for a longer time because he is talking all the time. So at the moment we are rather glad with this development.
While speaking with Elias on the swaddling table he always payed attention to our mouth. We then gave him the opportunity to touch our mouth and tongue to give him a feeling of speaking. We believe that this intensive concentration on speaking gives a hint to a sensitive period ( the links leads to a website in which on the left frame the sensitive periods by Maria Montessori are described) in this area and very early in the child’s life…
A good motivation for Elias are all kinds of musical instruments, from a plastic trumpet to a Mundharmonika. Daddy’s Mundharmonika is often used before going to bed…..
In Elias´ first years we didn’t succeed in finding a speech therapist who would work with smaller children. Therefore we tried to support Elias’ auditive perception and to stimulate his speech with all available methods and games. To compensate eventual physical deficits Elias is regularly examined by an ENT ( the risk of hearing damages in children with DS is essentially higher) – we and Elias had luck up to now. Generally we use songs, often accompanied by gestures, movements, read picture books and recite children rhymes. From about two years on Elias especially fell for rhyme books. It was interesting that this happened at the same chronological age as in his older sister who was an extremely early speaker : there seems to be another sensitive period!
We got the idea of making a special cassette ( Elias can already switch it on by himself in our stereo because he likes it so much) from the webpage of an American company. Calm agreeable classical music is the base. Then Michael and I each spoke sounds and words beginning with these sounds well known to Elias for about 20 or 30 minutes over this music. For example: Mmmm – break— mmm— break— mmm— break— mom — break— mom— break— mom— break. Then the next word beginning with another letter. We took the model for this from the following webpage:
This webpage also contains propositions for making up video cassettes and books. But it mainly points on learning the alphabeth and we didn’t think this was necessary for Elias yet at the age of 1-2 years. As already reported, Elias loves this cassette and really likes to pronounce the words into the corresponding breaks on the tape. Meanwhile we have received another cassette from Polish friends which Elias loves very much. There are instructions to clap, wave et cetera with the rhythm of the musik and Elias is enthusiastic. Unfortunately the instructions are in Polish and have to be translated.
Michael also made some dia- shows on the computer about different animals for Elias and underlayed it with animals voices. The newest series shows different kinds of birds and their voices. You can also run it without pictures, that is only with sound. Elias now knows many animal voices as exactly that he can recognize these animals only by their voices and does the sign for it. We think that these exercises helped to build his differentiation of voices and noises.
In general we think that it can be very useful to use new media. Unfortunately you can’t buy much of these things on the German market so we are have to do it ourselves. If someone is interested in the animal idea, there are good websites with basic material on Michael’s Homepage.
As you can see on Elias’ homepage we use sign language additionally to speech. The argument that frustration of children with DS can be avoided at the time when the active capability to speak is far behind their understanding of speech persuaded us. According to new tests even children without handicap acquiring speech are supported in this process by the use of sign language .Up to the age of 2 years Elias learned more than 60 signs. As he is speaking now a lot, we didn´t introduce new signs after that time. But we feel that using sign language has really helped him in his speech development. It even provided additionally memory support for learning more spoken words. So we can only recommand this method.
The different sign collections here in Germany were somewhat confusing at the beginning. We decided to use the basic gestures of the German sign language because we found the most interesting signs for Elias there…
We began signing when Elias was a little bit older than 1 year, at first not systematically. We just made the sign while speaking when Elias was interested in the objects or acitivities being part of his life. Elias was 15 months old when he used the first sign himself: ‘light’, ‘lamp’. I can still remember well when he pointed at every lamp or candle on Christmas Eve in the church and made the sign. A Iittle later I visited a MAKATON- sign seminary and then composed a list of about 35 signs that could be interesting for Elias and handed it over to every family member. I think that this was an impulse especially for the older siblings.. Then we just added other signs when we recognized that they could be useful and when we had some time and liked to look them up in the book. So it wasn´t all very systematic and plain.
Since Elias is only 20 months old, we don’t have that many experiences. We surely will try out this method which is also recommended by Prof. Wilken, a well-known German expert on DS and speech, intensely. Up to now, we have constructed some cards with well-known objects as well as the corresponding large letters under them and then “read” the words with Elias and show him the pictures. Although he finds it exciting he doesn’t know what to do with the written words. We also had a screensaver that showed the words “Mom” and “ball”. Well… .
What is really working though is playing with lottos. The recognition of identical “characters” is trained here. We show Elias a small picture ( at the beginning always 4 on one card, now 9 ) und he points at the corresponding pictures on the big card. We are surprised ourselves how much he likes it and how able he is to do it. His favourites still are animal pictures which are accompanied by many noises and signs! We have a new color lotto printed out which is only about recognizing colors. But it doesn’t really correspond to Elias’ interest. Although he often arranges 2 or 3 colors right he then turn away because of lack of interest.
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