You Have a Family Member with Down Syndrome, So Now What? Part 6

Copyright © 2012, Stephen Hawley, all rights reserved.

Communication will be one of your greatest challenges.  Trust me on this.  And when I say ‘your’ I don’t mean just you.  I mean you, your spouse, your other children, their cousins, your child’s teachers, and so on.  Communication issues will be a major problem for everyone with whom your child comes in contact.  Most of all, communications will be a big problem with your child.  You can help this in a lot of different ways.  Here’s one that you can start with at around a year or earlier and keep up until your child goes into preschool: Contextual Communications boards.



  • Paper, markers, etc.
  • Clear Contact Paper (or a laminating machine and inserts)
  • Tape or Adhesive Backed Hook-and-Loop fasteners



Think about the places and times when your child is fixed in a single place for a particular task.  For example, bath time, meal time, or playing with the lap desk you made earlier.  Make a short list of things that are appropriate for that context.  For example, for bath time you might have a list of body parts to be washed: hair, tummy, feet, hands, face, ears.  For meal time you might have milk, toast, cereal, yogurt, apples, banana, and so on.  Take or draw pictures of these things and label them in plain writing.  Cover them back and front with contact paper or laminate them (FYI, as of this writing, Staples will laminate things for you in their copy services department).  Crop them down with a decent border.  Note: for laminating, you’ll need to round the corners or you will have a sharp edge to contend with).  Attach one side of the hook-and-loop fasteners to the backs of each.  The side doesn’t matter as long as you’re consistent.  Attach the other side to the surface of the area where your child will be.

How to Use

Before the activity begins, attach a set of cards to the hook-and-loop fasteners.  At first, you will point to one (or assist your child in pointing to one) and provide that item.  For example, during bath time, you will teach your child to point to “hair” and then you take the card and say what is written on the card (remember to say thank you!) and wash your child’s hair.  You repeat until the task is done.  Eventually, your child will learn to pick these things on his/her own.  You can build as much structure as you’d like into the process.

What’s So Great About This

These tools are empowering for your child.  If she is delayed in speech (and she will likely be), she can communicate her wishes and make choices.  They promote literacy by having the words with the pictures.  Being able to make choices allegedly reduces the frequency of tantrums (although, in my experience the inability to communicate a choice is only the first step in a tantrum.  The inability to get what you want RIGHT NOW is the biggest cause).  Communications boards work great in a specific context with a limited vocabulary.  This is not a long term solution to building necessary breadth in communication.

There are no real hard and fast rules for this that I’m aware of.  When in doubt, it’s all about the communication, not the means: do what you feel works best.  Above all, have fun!

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