Similar to Autism, Down Syndrome is a spectrum disability. Some individuals diagnosed with Down Syndrome have higher cognitive skills than others and some are much easier to understand than others. For a parent, this can be confusing but also hopeful. Understanding what your child is saying or ‘speech intelligibility’ as your therapist might say, is critical. To better understand why your child might be difficult to understand, here are 8 factors that contribute to an individual with Down Syndrome’s speech intelligibility.
1. Structure of the Mouth
In relation to a small oral cavity or mouth, a larger tongue size in individuals with Down Syndrome can cause lack of movement and precision when making speech sounds.
There are many moving parts when talking (lips, tongue, teeth, jaw and palates) a person with Down Syndrome may have difficulty moving one or all of these.
After learning how to move articulators (lips, tongue, teeth, jaw and palates) a person with Down Syndrome must learn how to coordinate these together in order to make smooth, clear speech.
How a person with Down Syndrome hears and understands the speech and language modeled for them is vital when teaching speech and language skills.
5. Social Language
How does a person with Down Syndrome interact with others in their environment? This can include, staying on topic, taking turns during a conversation or using manners.
6. Nonverbal Communication
How do facial expressions and gestures contribute to your child’s communication style?
Is the speaker telling a story that is relevant to the topic at that moment or is the context unknown, possibly causing some confusion.
How does the external environment effect how a person with Down Syndrome is understood? Is there music playing or a lot of background noise that could make it difficult to understand them?
Some or all of these factors may contribute to your loved ones with Down Syndrome speech intelligibility. It is important to understand and work with your loved one’s speech therapist in order to maximize your child’s skills.
*Information gathered from: What Did You Say? A guide to Speech Intelligibility in People with Down Syndrome by, Dr. Libby Kumin, PhD., CCC-SLP