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Language Development of Children with Down Syndrome
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Language Development of Children with Down Syndrome


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  • 1. 1PName: Jeffren P. Miguel Class Time: 11:00-12:30 TTh Human growth and development is unique to the individual. When speaking ofhuman development itself, part of it is the development of language as well. To study languagedevelopment is to consider the developing mind as it accomplishes one of its most astoundingfeats. The development of language includes many subcomponents. Knowing a languageincludes knowing the grammar of that particular language, the sound patterns of the language,the words of the language and the way to use that language to communicate or to convey amessage from one person to the other. As what is stated in the previous paragraph, humans are unique. Some are bornnormal and some are born exceptional. The study of exceptional children is basically the study ofdifferences. A child who is exceptional is somehow different from typically developing childrenin some ways. One obvious difference is the development of language. In this paper, thedevelopment of language to those children with Down syndrome compared to typical childrenwill be the focus. That is, language development of children with Down syndrome is differentfrom typically developing children in the aspect of phonology, semantics and social-communicative development. When speaking of Down syndrome, we are also referring to the broader categoryto which this syndrome belongs and that is Mental Retardation. Mental retardation is a conditionwhere the child has below-average intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior. Hallahan andKauffman (1978) said that “sub-average intellectual functioning refers to performance on a
  • 2. 2standardized test of intelligence that is more than two standard deviations below the mean” (p.65). This basically means that intellectual functioning can be measured through and by means ofIQ tests. On the other hand, adaptive behavior as stated by Hill (2001) is the everyday livingskills. This includes walking, speaking, eating etc. These are the skills that a person learns ashe/she lives in the environment. Since adaptive behaviors are usually developmental, it ispossible to describe a persons adaptive behavior as an age-equivalent score. An average five-year-old, for example, would be expected to have adaptive behavior similar to that of other five-year-olds. In the case of mentally retarded children, intellectual functioning is sub-average andadaptive behavior is delayed. Mental retardation can be measured by IQ tests. There are degrees of severity ofhow retarded an individual is and it is based on the results of the IQ tests. The degrees of severityof mental retardation are the mild, moderate, severe and profound. According to Mental Healthin Mental Retardation (n.d.), mild mentally retarded persons represent 80% of the people withmental retardation. Their appearance is usually unremarkable and there is a slight sensory ormotor deficit. They also have an IQ level of 50-55 to approximately 70. People with moderate mental retardation account for about 12% of the learningdisabled population. Majority of these people can talk and communicate with some supervision.Adults with moderate mental retardation can also do simple routine work. This group of mentallyretarded people has an IQ of 35-40 to 50-55.
  • 3. 3 Another degree of severity is the severe mental retardation. People in this groupmake up 7% of the learning disabled population. Their development is usually slowed. They cancommunicate in a simple way. In addition to that, they also need supervision. And IQ of 20-25 to35-40 is the level of intelligence of the severely mentally retarded. Lastly is the profound mental retardation. People in this classification constituteless than 1% of the learning disabled group. Rarely they learn to care for themselves. Their IQlevel is below 20 or 25. According to Hallahan and Kauffman (1978), “these classification is themost useful of the classification system based on severity because the terms used (mild,moderate, severe, and profoundly retarded) do not convey the degree of negative stereotypingthat the earlier descriptions (“idiot,” “feeble-minded,” etc.). In addition to that, these wordsrelatively describe the functioning of the child” (p. 68). There are several causes of mental retardation and one of that is the chromosomalabnormality. This commonly refers to as Down syndrome. According to Feldman (2008), Downsyndrome is a cause of mental retardation that which is because there is a presence of an extrachromosome in the genes. In some cases of retardation, an abnormality is found in the structureof the chromosomes itself. Rabago, Joaquin, and Lagunzad (1997) also said that “and individualhaving more than the normal number of chromosomes is one with Down syndrome” (p. 370).The normal number of chromosome for an individual is 46. There are 23 coming from the fatherand 23 also coming from the mother – a total of 46 chromosomes. If one of the parents has morethan the normal number of chromosomes, the individual has Down syndrome and is mentally
  • 4. 4retarded. In this case of Down syndrome, wherein there is an extra chromosome, it is usuallycalled as trisomy 21. As mentioned earlier, Down syndrome is a cause of mental retardation. However,Down syndrome also has causes. One cause is exceeding number of chromosomes, which wasdiscussed in the previous paragraph. Other than that, according to Hallahan and Kauffman(1978), “the likelihood of having a child with Down syndrome is also dependent to a great extenton the age of the mother, with more such children born to women under 20 and over 40” (p. 75). Language development of children with Down syndrome is a different thing.They are usually delayed compared to normally developing children. When speaking oflanguage, we are commonly referring to phonology, grammar and vocabulary. In addition to that,language is used for communication – either verbal or non-verbal. For verbal communication,this usually refers to the production of sounds (phonology) and the knowledge of words(lexicon/vocabulary). On the other hand, non-verbal communication refers to the social-communicative development of children, which includes body language, gestures, signlanguages, etc. Phonology, according to Fromkin, Rodman, and Hyams (2011), “is thecomponent of grammar which includes the inventory of sounds (phonetics and phonemic units)and rules for their combination and pronunciation” (p. 589). The knowledge of phonologyenables the speaker to produce sounds that forms meaningful utterances. On the other hand,knowledge of words or lexicon (mental dictionary), Fromkin, Rodman, and Hyams (2011) also
  • 5. 5said that “it is the component of grammar containing speakers’ knowledge about morphemes andwords; it is commonly referred to as the speakers’ mental dictionary” (p. 584). When speaking of non-verbal communication, we may associate it to social-communicative functioning. Buckley, Bird, and Sacks (1996) stated that “social developmentincludes social interactive skills with children and adults, social understanding and empathy,friendships, play and leisure skills, personal and social independence and socially appropriatebehavior. Social understanding, empathy and social interactive skills are strengths for childrenand adults with Down syndrome, which can be built on throughout life to enhance their socialinclusion and quality of life. The opportunity to establish friendships may be affected by socialindependence and by speech and language and cognitive delay” (par. 2). Language development of children with Down syndrome is different fromtypically developing children in the aspect of phonology. For children with Down syndrome,babbling appears to be delayed by approximately 2 months compared to normally developingchildren. According to Layton (2004), in the developmental scale for children with Downsyndrome, most of the children with Down syndrome do not babble or “talk to themselves” bythe time they reach 10 months old. Babbling is very important because it shows how the child isdoing and whether or not the child will be a talker or will have speech problems. The precedingstatement is supported through the research done by Pruthi (n.d.) which states that “children withDown syndrome exhibit difficulties with the phonological aspect of language which can berelated to their delayed onset in babbling and which further explains their overall delay in
  • 6. 6expressive language” (par. 36). That is the reason why there is a delay in babbling to thosechildren with mental retardation compared to typically developing children. Also, those children with lower IQ tend to exhibit delays in the production ofspeech sounds. However, according to Pruthi (n.d.) as he cited from the study of Stoel-Gammon(1980), a group of mentally retarded children were capable of producing all the phonemes of theEnglish language and found out that there are no unusual/abnormal in the production in this areaof language. But for children with Down syndrome, it was found into conclusion that theirphonological abilities were comparable for those children who are developing normally at thesame language level of development. The difficulties in the formation of sounds occur children with Down syndromethan in normal children. The research done by the Down Syndrome Education International(1996) stated that “it is clear that the speech difficulties experienced by people with Downsyndrome are complex. This study suggests that they are due to impairments at virtually everylevel of the speech production process - selecting the sounds (phonological), planning theirsequence (motor programming) and carrying out the movements of the tongue and lips(articulatory). Assessment and treatment must therefore reflect this complexity and cliniciansmust be prepared not only to work at these different levels but also to evaluate which treatmentapproaches are effective for the different impairments. By this means, it is hoped that peoplewith Down syndrome will be able to communicate more intelligibly and consequently enjoymore opportunities for an independent life” (par. 2)
  • 7. 7 For the second point, the language development of children with Down syndromeis also different from those children who are developing normally in the aspect of semantics.According to Pruthi (n.d.), those children with Down syndrome increase vocabularies at the ratewhich is can be compared to their mental age. To support the preceding statement, Brackenburryand Pye (2005) stated that “children with language impairments demonstrate a broad range ofsemantic difficulties including problems with new word acquisition, storage and organization ofwords, compared to typically developing children” (p. 5). The vocabulary of children with Down syndrome is usually lower than typicallydeveloping children. According to Layton (2004), at the age of 11-15 months, typicallydeveloping children produces less than 10 words. On the other hand, those children with Downsyndrome comprehend only 20 words. By the time the children reach 21-25 months old, typicallydeveloping children comprehends 200-300 words while those children with Down syndrome,they only comprehend 100-125 words. Finally, when the children reach 60-71 months old, thosechildren who are typically developing already comprehends 13,000 years old. However, thosechildren with Down syndrome comprehend only 500-900 words. In a research also done byHick, Botting, and Ramsden (2005), they compared children with Down syndrome (DS),children with specific language impairment (SLI) and children who are typically developing. Thechildren with DS and SLI are called “clinical groups.” The researchers came up to the conclusionthat vocabulary performance in clinical groups was similar. However, children who are typicallydeveloping showed higher vocabulary abilities than the clinical group. These statementsbasically tell us that the knowledge of words of children with Down syndrome is lower than thatof the normally developing children.
  • 8. 8 Children with Down syndrome are also behind typically developing childrenwhen it comes to lexical development. When children with Down syndrome reach the age of 6years old, they are approximately more than 3 years behind typically developing children, whenit comes to lexical development (Hoff, 2001). Also, according to a research done by Rondal(n.d.), the lexical development goes with mental age. But then, it is obviously delayed in childrenwith Down syndrome. In addition to that, this basically means that children with Downsyndrome have limited understanding of words in a particular context because of the child’slimited mental dictionary. For the third point, the development of social communication to those childrenwith Down syndrome is also different compared to typically developing children. According toMiller (2001), the language development of children with Down syndrome and children who aretypically developing are essentially the same in a way that they learn a standard version of theirlanguage system and not a degraded form. They do not produce nor create new words. However,they use the words that they usually hear every day. The rate of language development isadministered by the child’s every day experience and general cognitive skills. Those childrenwho have Down syndrome, the words they utter and the sentences they create are hard tounderstand. Miller (2001) said that “as we listen to children and adults with Down syndrome, itis important to focus on the message rather than the form of how they say it” (par. 2). Meaning,we as the one who perceives and interprets the message, should use gestures, facial expression,and body postures to aid the children’s understanding of what are we talking about.
  • 9. 9 Other than being different, children with Down syndrome shows delay in thedevelopment of social communication. This statement is strengthened by the research of Layton(2004) that during the first 6-10 months of life, typically developing children tries tocommunicate by action or gestures. However, children with Down syndrome have no oral wordsand no signs. They still engage with their parent. By the time both of the children reaches 11-15months, typically developing children will now be able to respond in a yes or no question andinitiates vocalization to others. In addition to that, they also bring object to show to others. Onthe other hand, children with Down syndrome by this time now try to communicate through andby means of action and gestures. As time passes by, at 16-20 months of life development,typically developing children can now ask questions by raising intonation at the end of thephrase. This is not evident nor found in children with Down syndrome. But, they already know1-2 oral words and 1-2 signs. As the children reach 21-25 months, typically developing childrenbegin to use some verbs and adjectives in their communication. They can now also answer to“where” and “when” questions. Unfortunately for children with Down syndrome, this is the agein which they will initiate vocalization to others and bring objects to show to others. They cannow also acknowledge others by eye contact, responding or repeating. If the child with Downsyndrome reaches the age of 26-30 months, they will have the capacity to respond to “yes” and“no” questions. Also, when he child with Down syndrome reaches the age of 36-40 months, theywill now be able to ask questions by raising intonation at the end of the phrase. As you maynotice from the given statements, the social-interactive communication of children with Downsyndrome is very much delayed compared to typically developing children.
  • 10. 10 Children with Down syndrome are having difficulties in interacting with a personand playing with toys at the same time. Pruthi (n.d.) stated that “Down syndrome children focusmore on people and less on objects which further related to low frequencies of object request,which may be further reflected in all over expressive language delays” (par. 19). In acomprehensive study done by Mundy, Sigman, Kasari, and Yirmiya (1988) as cited by Pruthi(n.d.), they compared a large group of toddlers with Down syndrome to mental-age-matchedsubjects with non-specific retardation and typically developing children on the EarlyCommunication Scales. They came up into a conclusion that those subjects with Down syndromeexhibited right frequencies of social interaction behaviors, similar to that of infant studies. In conclusion, the language development of children with Down syndrome istherefore different and delayed compared to typically developing children in the aspect ofphonology, semantics, and social communicative development. As to phonological development,we could come up into a conclusion that there are delays in the development of children withDown syndrome compared to children who are developing normally, based on the research ofPruthi (n.d) and from the Developmental Scale for Children with Down syndrome by Layton(2004). When speaking of the semantic development of typical children and Down syndromechildren, it can also be concluded based from the above statements that Down syndrome followsthe same set of universal principles in the acquisition of word meanings. Also, it can also beconcluded that there are more registered words in the typically developing children’s lexiconthan children with Down syndrome. A delay in development of vocabulary of children withDown syndrome is also evident. On the other hand, the communication development of childrenwith Down syndrome is also delayed and different compared to typically developing children. It
  • 11. 11is explained and concluded that Down syndrome children focus more on people and less onobjects. In other words, they cannot talk to people and play with their toy at the same time.