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Language strategies for children with Down’s syndrome

There are different strategies that you can use to help support your child’s speech, language and communication skills. Here are some examples:



Giving time

When playing with your child, leave plenty of time and gaps for them to say something or respond to your language.


  • Before your turn to speak, wait longer than normal.
  • Count to 10, then speak.
  • Keep your attention and focus on your child to maintain the activity.
  • Give your child time before ‘jumping in’ to respond. A response may be looking, gesture, vocalisation or an attempt at a word.


  • Your child may need longer to process and respond.
  • Giving time helps children to understand it is their turn to talk.
  • A longer pause can reduce demand on the child’s language system and relax the situation.
three toy cars, red blue and grey

Creating opportunities

Use ‘playful sabotage’ to create lots of opportunities for your child to communicate. For some children communicating here may be looking, reaching or passing an object. For others it might be a sign or a word.


  • At snack time, try giving a small amount of snack. This means your child has lots of opportunities to ask for more.
  • Try putting a favourite toy or the TV remote out of reach so your child can show you what they want rather than being able to get it themselves.


  • It is natural to anticipate your child’s need, however this can take away the need for them to communicate.
Person kneeling down

Getting down to your child’s level

When playing with your child, get down to their level so that you are ‘face to face’.


  • When you play with your child get on their level so you can be face to face, it could be sitting on the sofa, lying on the floor, wherever your child is!
  • Your child chooses where to play, they know what is the most fun.
  • If you can’t physically get on the floor use a stool or a little chair.


  • You will be more tuned into their worlds and see what they see.
  • It’s easier to follow their lead.
  • You will be more aware of the words they need modelling.
  • You can encourage good eye contact.
  • You may pick up on some language or gestures you didn’t spot before.
A speech bubble saying 'running'


In play, and in everyday situations, simply talk about what your child is doing.


  • Instead of asking questions, comment on what your child is doing.
  • Let your child lead and you follow, describing what’s happening. Also comment using symbolic noises such as “brrrm brrrm”, “beep” and animal noises.
  • Try using a Makaton sign when you are communicating, signing as you say the words.


  • Questions can stop the flow of the conversation and your child might not know the word.
  • Your child will get to hear the words linked to what they are playing with lots of times. This will help with their understanding of the word, and they may feel confident enough to start saying or signing it.
Two faces one is speaking whilst the other listens


Interpret your child’s facial expressions, say the word you think they are trying to say.


  • Example: child looks in empty cup, you can say ‘gone’. Child points to the aeroplane in the sky you can say ‘aeroplane’.
  • Child says ‘du’ for duck you can say ‘duck’.


  • Gives your child recognition of what they are trying to communicate.
  • It lets them know they are being heard and listened to. Gives a clear model of the word they were trying to say. These are the first steps to having a conversation, even if they don’t know the words yet.
a speech bubble saying ‘yes, big dog’


When your child says or signs a word, say it back but adding one more word.


  • Use at any time, anywhere.
  • Effective from moving 1
    word to 2 and 2 to 3.
  • Repeat back what your child has said or signed and add a different word e.g. your child says or signs ‘bus’, you repeat (saying or signing) big bus or bus driving.
  • Or your child says or signs ‘cake’ and you repeat back (saying or signing) more cake or chocolate cake.


  • Shows your child how to combine words together.
  • It models the next stage of language development for them.
  • It shows you are listening and are reinforcing what they said. This strategy can be useful for children who aren’t always motivated to communicate.
Words 'Jump, Jump, Jump'


Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Say new words lots of time as you play!


  • Children with Down syndrome need to hear words lots of time to learn how to use them.
  • Follow your child’s lead, watch what they look at and play with, add the word and or Makaton sign and repeat.
  • Leave a pause before repeating, your child may copy or say something new!
  • Repetition feels unnatural, but is really helpful.


  • Repetition allows your child many opportunities to work out the meaning, how to use it and how it sounds so they feel more confident to use it.
  • Imagine learning a new language, you would find it helpful to hear the words over and over before trying it out. This is how it can be for children, even for short words or signs.

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: SL118

Resource Type: Article

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