There were, for many years, mysteries surrounding the difficulties faced by Down syndrome patients with regard to language development. Studies have now revealed that there are a variety of specific difficulties that can impede progress and cause cognitive delay. Most of the research that has been done so far is mainly descriptive. Very few published studies exist that have conclusively identified the long term effectiveness of remediation.
With regard to language development in children with Down syndrome, accounts generally draw attention to the expected speech and language development delays. There are differences in development, but most children with Down syndrome will be late in saying their first words. Down syndrome children will also be slower than ordinary children with regard to vocabulary. They might also have difficulty in terms of mastering certain grammatical rules or correctly formulating grammatically exact sentences. As a result, the speech of Down syndrome teenagers might be restricted to short utterances that are missing certain vital words. Down syndrome children might also have difficulty with the clear pronunciation of words.
Language learning is vital and an inability to correctly learn language can lead to consequences with other areas of learning. Talking enables a child to communicate and gain information about the world in general. Speech allows us control over our general lives. We can ask for things we need or want, tell people how we feel and other vital types of communication. An inability to talk can lead to isolation, or at least feelings of loneliness.
It is becoming more and more clear that language has an important role with regard to our cognitive functions. When we learn to master a language, we gain an ability to reason, recall and perform mental arithmetic. Short term memory is based on silent internal speech, which can develop and improve alongside a child’s language development. Storage of memories is dependent on the correct organization of information. There is a growing interest in researching the relationship between speech, language and memory capabilities.
As a consequence of the relationship between language and cognitive abilities, Down syndrome children are expected to be slightly slower than normal when it comes to cognitive development. As indicated, language is a powerful learning tool, so any delay in language learning can have serious consequences with regard to cognitive development. Thus, the more we do to develop a child’s language learning ability, the more we can do to improve the child’s cognitive abilities.