TEACH READING TO TEACH TALKING: UPDATE!
I’ve talked about this in a previous blog; here’s an update on this super important topic. About teaching reading to teach talking–
Does it work?
Let me count the ways…
- For the first time in the child’s life, he’s stringing together 4, 5, 6 words by reading them aloud in sentences. He has now experienced what that feels like. Until now, the probability is that he didn’t even know he could do that! The light bulb goes on.
- Also for the first time in his life, he’s using correct grammar by reading it aloud. Books (let’s hope) don’t speak “key word talking,” leaving out prepositions, articles, etc. So he is reading complete, grammatically correct sentences aloud. He hears himself doing this. Wow.
- Along with the grammar, he’s learning language. He’s expanding his thought vocabulary and dancing a much more intimate dance with language than he ever did before. (Have you ever noticed teens and adults with Down syndrome using very expensive, top-drawer words? They love to use those words.) Reading opens windows into language that he would not ordinarily encounter.
- He gets the idea that, if he can speak like that when he’s reading aloud, maybe–just maybe–he can try talking by stringing more words together. So he does! This is when Mom and Dad get seriously excited: they have never heard him talk like this before. I have seen this happen again and again with students and their parents, and it’s thrilling.
Have a look…
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then perhaps a video is worth two thousand. Let’s have a look at these two short videos of Imilee, an 8-year-old with Down syndrome. Imilee’s speech is typically unclear, but watch what happens in the second video when she reads aloud. Be sure your sound is turned up!
What if it doesn’t work? Is something else going on?
Yes, almost certainly. It could be several things. If you know for sure that the child is learning to read words, able to match, select, and name (or identify a word in some way, by signing or verbal approximation), but can’t actually speak the words clearly and isn’t increasingly using speech in daily life, let’s look further.
The most frequently undiagnosed problem I encounter with students is CAS or Childhood Apraxia of Speech. Too often educators or physicians will write off a lack of speech to Down syndrome. “It’s just a part of Down syndrome.” NOT. Down syndrome typically involves delayed speech, struggles with articulation, a tendency to use keyword speaking, etc. CAS is a different game altogether; CAS does not play by the same rules as DS.
What exactly is “CAS”?
Here is the definition straight from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: “Childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) is a motor speech disorder. Children with CAS have problems saying sounds, syllables, and words. This is not because of muscle weakness or paralysis. The brain has problems planning to move the body parts (e.g., lips, jaw, tongue) needed for speech. The child knows what he or she wants to say, but his/her brain has difficulty coordinating the muscle movements necessary to say those words.”
So CAS is a brain coordination problem. It is NOT a developmental problem; it is a medical condition, which–if you have it accurately diagnosed–will get the child needed services, as in CAS-specific speech therapy. If an evaluator checks off the “developmental speech delay” box, that will NOT get you the needed services. That is not a medical diagnosis.
Does that description fit your child of 4-8 years? (It can be diagnosed at an even younger age; experts disagree on the age, but for the sake of the child, the earlier the better!) If so, at this point, I would encourage you to have your child evaluated by an SLP who specializes in Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS). Seek out this evaluator, and don’t settle for an SLP or anyone else not specifically specializing in this problem. Don’t settle for just anyone the school system might supply as an evaluator; unless they specialize in this diagnosis, you’re going reject that choice, right? Memorize this: “We suspect CAS and require a specialized evaluator for an accurate medical diagnosis.”
The last word…let’s hear it from Downs Ed International
I’ll end this blog with one of my absolute favorite quotes from Sue Buckley and Gillian Bird of Downs Ed in the UK from their iiSeries: “Teaching reading to teach talking is probably the single most effective intervention for helping children with Down syndrome to overcome their learning difficulties…Teaching them to read may be the most effective therapy for developing their speech and language skills from infancy right through school years.”