By Colleen Brunetti, M.Ed., C.H.C.

October is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month and Signing Time is proud to be a long-standing supporter of children with Down syndrome and their families. Signing Time Co-founder Rachel Coleman can often be found at Buddy Walks around the country, and we’ve been working hard to build a great database of resources for you to use when signing with children who have Down syndrome.

The goal of the Buddy Walk is to promote understanding and acceptance of people with Down syndrome. “My September and October weekends are filled with Buddy Walks!” says Rachel. “At each Buddy Walk, where I am performing, I create a Team Signing Time and I invite all of our Signing Time families in the surrounding area to be a part of it. You don’t have to know someone with Down syndrome to participate. It’s always a wonderful experience for all. If you are a Signing Time Family at a Down Syndrome Buddy Walk, you will see that these too are places “where friends can meet and find we’re not so different after all!’”

If you’re not very familiar with Down syndrome, here’s a little lesson. It is a genetic condition caused by an extra copy of the 21st chromosome and occurs at a rate of about 1 in 733 live births. Generally, there can be some challenges within the domains of cognition, language, and muscle development, as well as a variety of health concerns that may crop up.

Our particular interest here at Signing Time is, of course, language development. Sign language is key for children who have Down syndrome because of the many ways it can support language development across the board.

Children with Down syndrome often have a lag in expressive language, while their receptive language may develop more quickly. In other words, they may struggle more to express themselves and yet understand what is said to them more readily than may appear. Sign language bridges that gap, allowing children to express themselves with their hands when the words are not quite ready to come out.

There are many assistive devices to help with expressive language. Communication boards, iPads, and pictorial based systems all have their place. However, they also require equipment, batteries, and remembering to take them along! Not so with sign language – when you sign, all you need is your hands! In addition, signing allows children to express a wider variety of thoughts, emotions, and observations. They aren’t tied to the options that appear on their communication device at any given time.
One of the great things about signing is that the child’s whole community can get involved. Parents, grandparents, and key community members can all learn some basic signs quite easily (take a look at our Sign Language Dictionary for some ideas). Children of all ages and abilities love to sign and will likely be very drawn to learning some signs to communicate with their friend who has Down syndrome.

Check out some of our great resources on working with children who have Down syndrome!
Signing Time Guide for Children with Down Syndrome
Potty Training a Child With Special Needs (includes a series of articles)

PRODUCT RECOMMENDATIONS

Children learn best when they have a high interest in the subject matter. Signing Time DVDs, books and flash cards provide fun activities, songs, and stories that keep your child interested and engaged. In addition, Signing Time products provide the repetition and practice opportunities needed to help children learn to sign on their own.

Functional Skills

It is very important to teach functional skills to your child to encourage independence in daily living. Offering signs that have to do with personal likes, dislikes, food, and simple tasks around the house offer your child the opportunity to take initiative and express personal interests in meaningful ways in everyday situations. This increased sense of independence may give your child a sense of pride and self-worth. Sometimes knowing “I did it myself!” is priceless.

 

Signing Time DVDs that support functional skills include:

Socialization

Children who have Down syndrome often enjoy social interaction and play a great deal. Introducing signs targeted to social interaction will help build vocabulary and facilitate interaction with peers and family.

         Signing Time DVDs that support social skills include:

Other Products that Support Language and Visual Learning