The benefits of early reading
“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.”
Sue Buckley and Gillian Bird - Down Syndrome Education International
When my daughter Beth was born, I went into a research tailspin. One of the areas I looked into was neurodevelopmental theories. According to neurodevelopmentalists the brain grows the most in the first six years of life, with the most critical period being the first three years. Quite simply what this means is that in this critical period the brain is like a sponge and can quickly absorb any information that is shared much more easily than when the child is older. With that in mind my husband and I decided to teach our daughter to read from a very young age. Six months in fact!
We purchased the IAHP book "How To Teach Your Baby To Read" and made a series of word cards based upon the advice laid out in the book. Beth has always loved to read and enjoyed her sessions immensely. We supplemented her reading cards with reading to her all the time as well, we regularly read 10 - 20 books a day. Even now she would read for hours if she could (wish the same could be said for drawing and writing - but that is another story!)
When Beth was two years old we purchased Brillkids Little Reader, and this is when her reading really took off. Brillkids is a multisensory programme and we feel this really helped her to take in and understand the meaning behind the words she was being shown.
As Beth grew older we started to see her speech was delayed in comparison to some of her peers with Down syndrome. Through research I started to learn about the link between Down syndrome and verbal apraxia, and discovered that my little girl has this too. Beth was largely non verbal until she was 4. Now at 6 years old her speech is coming along but she is still unfortunately very hard to understand at times. The wonderful thing I discovered is that when Beth reads out loud, her speech clarity can at times be incredible. It is so different than when she speaks. I have read that this is very common with children with apraxia.
Apparently children with Down syndrome who learn to read early on develop larger vocabularies and experience massive gains in self-esteem and self-confidence thanks to their language skills.
Here are a few tips, I hope will help you along:
1. To start with choose words that have meaning within your child's environment. You can also make it multisensory by showing them the word "eat" while they are eating or the word card for the food they are eating eg "apple".
2. Label everything in your house (although if your child is like mine - keep them out of reach!)
3. Repetition is key. It took 18 months for us to first see that Beth was learning
4. Believe in your child's ability. It took 18 months for us to get any feedback that Beth had learned anything, but after that she seemed to know everything!
In the video above, Beth is 2 years and 10 months old. If you believe in your child, anything is possible.