Thursday, October 18, 2012

Therapy Thursday: Speech and Language, Part 1 (31 for 21, Day 18)

The development of speech and language is important for many reasons, including the formation of both cognitive and social skills.  To children with Down syndrome, early interventions in this area are very important.  Cognitively this is important as:

  • Increased vocabulary translates to increased understanding of the environment
  • Using language increases thinking and reasoning abilities

Whereas socially, language:

  • Gives the ability to navigate through world
  • Helps control behaviour (by being able to express thoughts, feelings and desires)

The delays with Down syndrome are not universal;  not only do they vary in severity between individuals, but they also occur only in certain developmental areas and not others.  In regards to both speech and language, this area is fragmented into some skills being strengths and others 'weaknesses'.


  • Social development
  • Social Understanding
  • Communication (non-verbal, gesturing) 
  • Visual short term memory 
  • Visual-spacial processing
  • Perception
  • Socialization
  • Development of daily living skills


  • Development of spoken language (phonetics, syntax)
  • Problems with speech (planning, articulation, phonology)
  • Delayed acquisition of vocabulary (which is understood much before it is used) in early years.  (This becomes a strength however, by the teenage years)

'Receptive language', that is, the language that is understood, is much more developed than 'expressive language', or the language that is able to be spoken.

There are a variety of reasons that the development of speech and language are impacted by Trisomy 21.  They include:

  • Impairments of brain functioning which impact the phonological loop of working memory
  • Hearing deficits (including conductive, sensorineural)
  • Oral-motor difficulties (which will impact speech-sounds and word production), found with structural, muscular or innervation differences.
  • Vocabulary delays

[Next week:  Strategies for early intervention]

Buckley SJ, Le Prèvost P. Speech and language therapy for children with Down syndrome. Down Syndrome News and Update. 2002;2(2);70-76.

Martin, Gary E., Jessica Klusek, Bruno Estigarribia, and Joanne E. Roberts. "Language Characteristics of Individuals with Down Syndrome." Topics in Language Disorders 29.2 (2009): 112-32. Web.

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