Communication is about much more than speech. It also includes nonverbal methods such as facial expressions and gesture. For successful communication we need to be able to do a number of things including being able to listen, knowing how to take turns and being able to gauge whether the other person is understanding us.

Most people with Down syndrome are great communicators. Babies with Down syndrome tend to engage in babbling and turn taking from a fairly early age and most children demonstrate a desire to interact socially. It is, however, quite common for children and adults with Down syndrome to demonstrate speech difficulties. There is no definitive answer as to why this occurs but possibilities include anatomical differences in the mouth and jaw, speech motor difficulties, hearing loss, smaller verbal short term memory spans and the impact of intellectual disability on language acquisition. Research has shown us that people with Down syndrome often have much better receptive language than expressive language - that is, they can often understand a lot more than they can tell us.

Speech therapy is usually recommended for children with speech delays and difficulties. Early intervention services can be accessed through Disability Services Queensland and by accessing funding from the Better Start Program. For older children and adults it may be worth speaking to your GP about medicare rebates for allied health visits under a GP Management Plan or Team Care Arrangement. For more information about these programs please see the Useful Links section below.

The use of visual supports can be very useful for people with communication difficulties. Research has shown that children with Down syndrome have strong visual short term memory skills, so the use of symbols and pictures for communication can be of great benefit. You can download a low resolution version of our guide to visual supports in the Useful Downloads section below.  

Many children with Down syndrome use Key Word Sign (formerly Makaton) to support communication. This is a form of sign language that uses only the signs for key words in combination with speech. It is often used by children with Down syndrome from a very young age with research suggesting that children will naturally cease the use of the signs once they have developed successful verbal communication. Your Speech Pathologist will be a great resource for information about Key Word Signing. 

There are a range of alternatives to verbal communication for those who have difficulty with speech, sometimes to be used instead of, others as a secondary method of communication to support speech that isn’t clear. Our priority should be ensuring that every person with Down syndrome has a means of having their wants, needs, thoughts and opinions heard. 


Useful Downloads and Links

Further Information and Support

For further information and support please contact the team at DSAQ on (07) 3356 6655 or at [email protected]


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