Of all my children, I never would have guessed that the family book worm would be my child with Down syndrome. Troy has a special devotion to certain books. The sound of the words, the clues in each picture, the feel of the book, even the taste (LOL). He simply adores books and reading!
We all know that literacy opens doors to a life of learning and opportunities. Learning to read positively impacts learning in all subject areas, provides access to the curriculum, improves speech, and is essential to an independent life. But just a generation ago, it was believed children with Down syndrome could not learn to read.
Now we know that even the very youngest children with Down syndrome can learn literacy skills and almost all can be taught to read at a level essential for independently living. So, where do we start?
I use a combination of reading for pleasure with all my children, and some more focused literacy building developed specifically for children with Down syndrome. By the way, I use these specially developed programs for my typical kids too.
Troy really enjoys Orange County’s Online Learning Program, and it’s completely free with a guest login. You print off books that your child might enjoy. Watch Troy read his favorite LP book, “Sports.”
Like most early literacy programs, this approach focuses on acquiring high interest and common sight words. Children with Down syndrome excel at the visual memory skills needed for reading sight words.
Obviously, Troy just memorized this book, but he also shows comprehension later with a matching game. Watch below.
The beauty of this approach is that you can start even before your child is verbal. They can match picture to picture, they can use sign language, or you can read and they can point to the words.
Sue Buckley’s Down Syndrome Education Online uses a similar approach. Both programs start with a whole word approach, build vocabulary through pictures, memorize sight words and use them in sentences, and eventually introduce phonics and sound blends.
It may seem intimidating to teach your child with Down syndrome to read, but really there’s only 5 simple steps:
Read: (a book from either LP Online or DSE Online)
Match: either picture to picture or word to word, which I did with Troy from about 2 to 4-years-old
Select: give you child a choice between 2 pictures or words and ask them to choose the right picture or word
Name: hold flash cards of either pictures or words and have your child name or sign them
Check: for comprehension by matching picture to word, draw a line from picture to word, or make generalizations in the real world (example: read the zoo book, then visit the zoo)
After doing the Easy Readers with Troy for the past three years, we’re now slowly moving on to building sentences. Troy has great sentence awareness. He can show me the front and back cover, and even say the author and illustrator of his favorite books.
Now I’m trying to get Troy interested in building sentences by creating his own book, which his typical twin brother already loves.
I found these awesome blank books in the dollar section of Target. Then we print out pictures of a favorite topic like superheroes, Paw Patrol, or family members.
After gluing a picture on a page we come up with a simple sentence to correspond with the picture. I write the sentence on a strip of paper and cut each individual word. The boys glue on each word in the correct order and we add punctuation at the end. Then we read our books.
This is a hard skill for Troy, because he can’t verbalize a novel sentence by himself, or sit through the creation of an entire book. But we’re starting small by giving him a choice between 2 or 3 pictures in one sitting, and helping him come up with the sentence. The point is to keep him interested, while understanding the structure of a sentence.
I love this approach and have used both program’s apps on our iPad. Troy loves them too. The apps include: VisualLearn, Special Words, and See and Learn.
If your child is past this stage check out my dear friend’s blog, Sassy Southern Gal, for advice on more advanced readers.
What works for you and your child, and what’s challenging when it comes to literacy? Let me know below.