This summer, we have been blessed to spend time with a wonderful young lady who is just finishing her student teaching to become a special education teacher. MG is exactly the kind of person our special little ones need; she has such a kind and gentle heart, and adores our special little ones. Each and every child in her class will be loved, and seen as the beautiful child of God that he or she is.
MG, your mom shared with me that Matthew was your inspiration to study special education, and we are so honored by that. But, this summer, you inspired us. Your coming to help me with the kids not only helped me get some needed chores done, but you also helped renew my perseverance to help Matthew become all he can be. You told me about an article you read about teaching children with Down syndrome to read.
According to the article, researchers have found that children with Down syndrome learn differently than typically developing children. Instead of starting with phonics, the researchers have found greater success teaching children sight-words. They suggest simply writing some simple words on flash cards to begin to teach a child to read, starting with family names and some favorite things. (When adults read, we don’t sound out each word, but rather our brains recognize each word as a whole.) The entire article is fantastic, and I highly recommend that you read it through if you, or someone you know, is raising a child with Down syndrome. Throughout the whole thing, I found myself saying, “Yes! Exactly! This is Matthew!” This segment in particular:
… for some of the children signs were an easier and faster response mode than speech. They would look at a flashcard and appear to be concentrating on producing the correct spoken response, meanwhile their hands were already making a correct sign. This additional time needed to produce speech suggested to us that the children might have some sort of specific production difficulty with speech. Even when they knew what they wanted to say, they had difficulty in saying it. …The way in which the children substituted similar meaning words and signed when reading encouraged us to feel that they were more intelligent and had more understanding of language than they were being given credit for.
…When we watched the video-tapes on which we recorded the children’s reading progress, we noticed that we had captured a number of sequences in which a child was trying to describe an experience or explain something to his mother for which his spoken language skills were inadequate. The child would resort to the combined use of single keywords and mime to try to convey his message. We were convinced again that the children knew what they wanted to say but could not express themselves in speech.
There are a number of possible hypotheses which could be generated to explain these observations. For example, the child may not have mastered enough grammar to be able to construct the sentences that were being implied by the combination of words and gesture. Alternatively, we could postulate that the child was thinking in sentences but could not execute them in speech.
. . .
This is exactly what I’ve been saying for so long: Matthew knows what he wants to say, he just can’t form the words!
The article goes on to describe some teaching strategies, the benefits of learning to read written language, and the increase in spoken language development the researchers observed in the kids using the technique. To put it simply, reading enhances speech.
So, we decided to try it! We started with just 3 words: “Matthew,” “car,” and “truck,” then introduced about 1 new word per day. We practice his words for about 5 minutes at a time, just before rest and just before bed (because that’s when I have 5 quiet minutes to spend with Matthew alone!)
If he has trouble with a word, or is hesitant to speak it, we switch to “multiple choice” mode. That is, we ask him to point to a certain word, which he does more quickly and easily than speaking it, especially if the word is new.
This video is just about 1 week after we started. At the time, his newest word was “me.” As usual, the only reward/motivator Matthew requires is applause.
I apologize for the camera angle – I had to prop the camera on a pillow.
Since then, he has learned the word “milk,” and “boat.” I asked him what word he wanted to learn next, and he said “helicopter” and “hippopotamus.” Maybe we’ll start with just one of those, and go from there, my ambitious child?
We’re so proud of you, Matthew! And, many thinks to MG for the information and the inspiration.
As an added bonus, Jesse is learning the words, too!