Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Learning to Read

Children with Down's Syndrome begin to learn to read by memorising simple words by sight. It is fine for them to learn the phonics (alphabet & sounds) but it will be a while before they can put together the fact that a group of letters/sounds actually make up a whole word. In the meantime, it is best to teach them sight words. In infant schools, we have a list of the 100 common first words - if you can get hold of a copy of that and start with a few at a time on flash cards, you are on your way. I have found that beginning with the child's name, Mum, Dad, I, can, see, will give you a means to make sentences as well - I can see Mum, etc. Combine these with any photos you can get of these important people, and the meaning is then crystal clear.

As a teaching assistant, I have found it invaluable to take the time to make a little 'All About Me' book with some photos from home with one or two sentences underneath describing the pictures: This is me; My name is ------; I can see Mum; I can see Dad; and so on. The child can then relate the words to actual people and places that mean something to them rather than an anonymous and possibly obscure illustration in a book.

A very helpful book is Teaching Reading to Children with Down's Syndrome which explains it far better than I can and also contains exercises and resources that can be used along the way.

Interestingly, once children with Down's Syndrome get going with their reading, they quite often have a higher reading age than speaking age. My daughter was one of the research children for the Sarah Duffen Centre in Portsmouth and it was fascinating to discover that at the age of 7 she had a reading age of 7 years old but a speaking age of 2 years old. Reading was a very good way of improving her speech as giving her useful sentences to read and learn she could then transfer the order of the words to her every day life and use them successfully.

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