Thursday, 12 January 2017

Speech and Learning to Read (Part 2)

Felix with his new words
In my last blog I talked about the things we did with Felix to encourage his speech, in preparation for learning to read. In this one, I'll tell you what practical steps we took to teach him to read.

The first thing I did, was to get some advice from a couple of people who have been working with individuals, with Down syndrome, for over twenty years. These ladies have seen what works and what doesn't work with our kids and understand the way they learn which, generally for kids with Down syndrome, is very visual. After talking to them, I invested in a laminator, started up the printer, and made sure I had plenty of photo paper and ink.

The process.....

Laminated photos and words
Start small! Choose four things your child loves. Don't try and pick simple words, like cat and hat, just because you think they will be easy to learn. If your child doesn't have a cat and hates wearing hats, those words won't really be relatable to them. Your words could be "dinosaur", "fire engine", "Sampson" (pet dog), and "Mum". Make sure, however, that your child can say, or sign, the words you choose so they don't become frustrated.

Next, print up a photo of each word you've chosen (and laminate it for longevity), and print up the word in a simple font in a decent size. Once that's done, choose two of the words initially, and show your child which word belongs to which photo. After they have seen you match them up a couple of times, give them the words and tell them it's their turn. If they don't get them right, don't say "no" or tell them off, just say, "I think they might go here", and put the words under the correct photo. Don't make your child sit for longer than they want to. You want it to be fun. If you see them getting bored, finish up and try again another time. They will probably only want to sit for a couple of minutes initially.
Another home made idea that Felix loves

Once they are matching the words to the two photos easily, change it up. Put the words down first, and get them to put the picture next to the correct word. If that's too easy, see if they can tell you what the words are without the photos. When they are 100% correct every time with the two words, add another two, so they're matching four, and so on. Always make sure they know them perfectly before you add more. If frustration creeps in, and you get annoyed with them for taking to long to learn it, they will lose interest, and you'll be back to square one again.

Splashing in the dirty water with the dogs
Each child is different, so I can only speak from my experience with Felix, but he absolutely blew me away with how quickly he learnt to recognise sight words this way. There were days when he would sit and persist for ages and ages, and we were sometimes able to get 10+ new words in a day. His memory for visuals is incredible!

Once he started being able to read the words without the photo prompts, we saturated him with the words in other forms. We wrote them on blackboards for him to read. We painted words and wrote words in different colours on paper. We used alphabet letters to spell out the words. In no time at all, he was writing the words himself, or spelling them out with letter cards or alphabet puzzle pieces.

The visual thing is quite interesting. If I ask Felix to spell "zebra", he will say "z...e....b...". then, if he can't remember the next letter, he closes his eyes and writes it in the air with his finger "z...e...b...," then opens his eyes and shouts out "R" then says the "a." It's like he actually has to close his eyes to see the sight word in his head, and then is able to spell it out loud. About 98% of the time, he is able to remind himself this way, and spell the word correctly.

Due to Felix's interest in reading, I have collected a lot of resources along the way. I've managed to find packs of sight words, matching games, colours, shapes etc etc from places like Kmart and Big W really cheaply. I leave them where Felix knows where they are, and he often goes and helps himself to them, and sits and "learns". He has his favourite things to do. He still loves the matching photos and words (we have made him two new packs recently.) I think he likes them because they are words he can relate to, and photos of things he's familiar with. We have several alphabet puzzles and stamps which he plays with every day too. The alphabet is still very much his favourite thing....
Crafty fun before Christmas

Felix now has a huge sight word vocab, and doesn't need photos when we introduce new words anymore. Repetition seems to be enough for him now, so he has been able to use the Oxford sight word list, exactly the same as the other kids in his class at school and is keeping up with the typical kids his age. We still need to make sure we put in extra time with him because, obviously, he needs a bit of extra time for comprehension and actually speaking the word isn't always easy for him. It's funny how he can read better than he can actually speak. He can read the sentence, "Mum, could you come into the kitchen please?", but if he was asking me that in every day life, he would just say, "Mum, come here please."

Love this kid!
Another thing I have found works well to help Felix speak a word properly, is to get him to look at my mouth while I say it, and then get him to repeat it back to me. After I have done that several times, he usually manages to say it consistently. His speech still has a long way to go, and his reading, especially comprehension, will be a work in progress for many years to come but, I'm so super proud of my little guy. His persistence and eagerness to learn is so beautiful to watch. It can be exhausting sometimes, and there are days when I would love nothing more than for him to sit and watch a movie for a couple of hours to give me a break but, I know this stage won't last forever, so I'll enjoy it while his mind is a little sponge, soaking everything up!

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