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Helping speech sound development for children with Down’s syndrome

Introducing speech sound activities in play from 1 year old can help children progress with their speech. This can be done through play and having fun with speech sounds! Here are some ideas for fun activities which can help speech sound development.

Sound cards

Your speech and language therapist can provide you with a set of cards showing individual sounds, such as ‘b’, ‘m’ and ‘s’.

Your child will not be able to say these sounds at first, but they can start to listen to them and look at you when you are making the sounds.

  • Hold the sound card up to your face and say the sound to your child, emphasising the shape your lips and tongue make.
  • If your child has a go at copying the sound, great!
  • They might also start to copy your mouth shape but without making the sound.
  • You can play games with the cards, such as hiding them around the room for your child to find, hiding them under jigsaw pieces, laying them out on the floor like stepping stones for your child to jump between and putting them in a bag and letting your child feel for one.
  • Remember to keep it relaxed and fun and don’t worry if your child can’t say the sounds. The most important thing is for them to listen to the sounds and see you making them.

Sound books or bags

green book
  • Choose a sound and make a book full of things that begin with that sound.
  • Choose words and pictures that your child will enjoy looking at.
  • Use photos, pictures from catalogues and magazines, drawings and pictures from the internet.
  • For example, your ‘s’ book might include socks, Superman, Uncle Steven, Santa, satsuma, singing etc.
  • Look at the book together. Say the word and do the Makaton sign, then hold the book up to the side of your face so your child is looking at you and the book. Say the word, emphasising the first sound, so your child can see what your lips and tongue are doing.
  • The aim of the book is to begin to help your child hear these sounds and learn where they go in words. This is not a talking activity. The words will be too difficult for your child to say at first. If your child wants to have a go at saying the words, that is OK, but it is also fine if they just want to listen.
  • You can do the same activity with a bag. Choose a sound and fill the bag with objects beginning with that sound, for example, for a ‘b’ bag – ball, banana, baby, bag, biscuit etc.


Sounds in play

  • Make lots of sounds when playing together. For example, ‘nnnnnn’ for an aeroplane, ‘shhhh’ when putting dolly to sleep, ‘mmmmm’ when eating and drinking, ‘sssss’ for a snake, ‘b b b’ when bouncing a ball.
  • Repeat these sounds lots of times in games.
  • For working on a particular sound, choose the sound then get out toys which help you use this sound.
  • Think about lots of words beginning with that sound that you can use when playing together. For example, when playing with a ball, you could say:

“Bounce the ball….b b b”

“Big ball”

“Blue ball”

“Bear’s ball” etc.

  • Repeat the words lots of times when playing the game.


Clapping out beats (syllables)

clapping hands
  • Breaking words down into smaller parts (syllables) helps children hear the sounds in the words so they are easier to say.
  • Clap out the number of syllables in everyday words, for example, ‘mu – mmy’ (2 claps), ‘ba – na – na’ (3 claps).

Top tips

A person pointing to one of three different shapes to show they are choosing

When you cannot understand what your child is trying to say:

  • Offer your child choices and see if they can point or reach for what they want
  • See if your child can show you rather than tell you what they want
  • Try to use the context to work out what your child is trying to say
  • Maintain eye contact and keep interaction positive
  • If you are able to work out what your child is saying, remember to model to your child the word they were trying to say

Contact us

For more information please contact the Speech and Language Therapy Service at Ryegate Children’s Centre on 0114 271 7617.

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: SL119

Resource Type: Article

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