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Because every family deserves the blessing of a child with Down Syndrome...
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a helping hand :: Milestones That Matter


a helping hand is a new feature on the RR Blog. These will be supporting tools from the experts... or articles written by experts for parents!


This is the third post by from BabySignLanguage.com in our 'a helping hand' series, giving you a tool that can help you improve communication with our children with Down syndrome and special needs.

Their posts have been very well received and their website is FULL of wonderful resources! We're very glad to have them contributing!


Milestones That Matter-How BSL Can Help You Get There

For a child, every stepping-stone is a milestone. Some children leap across these stones so quickly that we fail to notice and celebrate. Others may take longer. We must never forget that the achievement of reaching a milestone is of equal proportion regardless of the speed. A milestone is always a good reason to celebrate.

Children with Down syndrome may not say their first words until age 2 or 3, but there are tons of milestones in between that parents and caregivers can encourage. For example, playing peek-a-boo teaches turn-taking, and this is lots of fun for parents and kids alike!

Listening to music is a way to work on auditory skills. Yes, there are plenty of pre-verbal skills to concur before those first words.

More and more parents of children with Down syndrome are teaching baby sign language as a way to encourage speech development. The benefits that are available to every child exposed to gestural communication are of even greater benefit to parents and children who would have found themselves in a lengthier-than-usual communication gap. Late talker doesn’t have to translate to an extended period of frustration because baby and parents can get their messages across through other avenues other than speech.

Combining sign language with the verbal word encourages speech development. The cycle for a child with Down syndrome may look something like this:

Parents introduce sign language early and often. They use it in addition to traditional spoken word. This can be a frustrating stage because who wouldn’t love to see instant results! Start early and hang in there. Encourage extended family and friends to learn sign language, too. Find other parents working on these same skills; they can be an excellent resource for questions and support.

The child begins to comprehend the sign(s). Receptive language skills are not the same challenge as the expressive language skills; this is part of the reason this area develops first. Also, Children with DS are more apt to be visual learners, so sign language caters that much more to their learning experience. For many, this comprehension of sign language will help ease frustrations because there is understanding taking place even if the communication cannot yet be returned. For example, a parent may ask and sign “are you hungry?” Even though the child doesn’t say or sign a response, many parents can read an interest versus dis-interest reaction.

Children will start using the signs for emphasis or clarification. This doesn’t happen right away. When parents know their child will likely have a speech delay or struggle with articulation, the non-verbal cues are almost always introduced early and therefore it takes longer before we see those signs returned. It is rewarding when we see the signs enter their vocabulary and a relief to understand their wants and needs. The work is worth it!


Usage: The potty sign is tremendously useful in potty training your baby. Using the sign, you can train babies earlier than if you had to wait until they could speak the word. As you potty train your baby, teach them to make the sign to get you to put them on the potty.

Once signing, your child is making progress on everything from their fine motor skills, to verbal language development. They are also able to express their wants and bond that much deeper with their family. Most words that are signed are eventually spoken and develop as spontaneous speech.


Usage: What could be sweeter than exchanging I love you with your baby.

Every child is different and this is just as true for children with Down syndrome. Your child will develop at his or her own pace and while some parents may look at the race to milestones as a sprint, life is best lived as a marathon. 

At Babysignlanguage we are delighted to support families with special needs. We have a huge collection of resources to help you teach and learn sign language for babies and a wonderful set of baby sign language flash cards



If you would like more information on how you can be a contributor to our 'a helping hand' series here on the Reece's Rainbow blog, please contact lucille@reecesrainbow.org.

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