Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Imitation - not only a form of flattery, but a skill we work on a lot with Violette!

I heard the authors of the article above in Boston a few years ago. The article is pretty academic, but has some great information. The part about teaching imitation is particularly informative (I've written the authors and asked them why they don't have their research more widely distributed, and they offered to send me a few pdfs of presentations they've made - I haven't seen them yet but will try to get permission to link to them when I do!)

Anyway, they talk alot about teaching skills for imitation. Banging the table, rubbing your nose, patting your head - lots of silly stuff. Helping out if the child doesn't do it to get them to do it so they get the idea that when you do something, they should try to do the same thing. Our kids apparently have a deficit in imitation skills, and until they learn to imitate and really get the idea of it, imitating speech and sounds are going to be difficult.

After I heard the session I spent a lot of time working with Violette on improving her imitation skills. I know after I learned about how important that skill was toward getting her to do lots of other things and really worked on it I saw a big difference in her ability to imitate sounds (or at least try to!)

We played/sang "can you do what I do? I do? I do? Can you do what I do? Tap Tap tap (where it says "Tap Tap Tap we put in whatever we want her to do.)

Now I can say "do X Violette" and she knows what it means to do it.  She doesn't always do it right away, but eventually she tries.  The good thing about teaching imitation is it is a skill that carries through so many other areas - writing, speaking, drawing, movements, etc. all can benefit from strong imitation skills!

Monday, August 2, 2010

The First Year With Violette: What worked, what I wish I had done differently

A mom came on the Baby Center Down syndrome board asking what the more experienced moms felt they did right and what they wish they had done the first year...here's my response...so I don't forget it!

I think it is really important to remember that you are raising a whole child. That first year, it is so easy to focus on the big milestones which are mostly gross motor things - rolling over (which usually comes pretty easy to our lo's), sitting up, crawling, standing, walking. Those things, as exciting as they are really aren't a race to get there - from what Pat Widners says, you want them to learn to do them right with good form, not just do them. If your child takes his or her time doing them, be patient and know they very likely will do them eventually. But, if your child isn't meeting those on the typical time table, you can still think of what sorts of things a child that age would be doing, and bring that sort of activity to your child. For example - if they aren't crawling, move them around to places you think they would be exploring naturally, and then let them explore there. If they'd be making a mess, give them an opporunity to make a mess. You may have to bring more experiences to the child so they can learn all the other things you learn when you are mobile.

I always wanted to see the developmental milestone charts to know what she should be doing (the HELP Charts are really good ones to get your hands on if you are interested.) She didn't meet everything when she was supposed to, but I could try to put developmentally appropriate things in front of her to at least expose her to them - so in some cases she surprised me by being able to do things on time, and in other cases, she was at least exposed to them, and I could re-introduce them or show them to her when she was more ready to do it.

I was told Tummy time was the single most important thing I could do for her early on. Apparently a strong core helps with everything - crawling, writing, walking, you name it. I was told something like 20 minutes on her tummy every waking hour. I tried the best I could to make sure that happened...

Signing. I read a lot of research early on that said that signing with your child with Down syndrome was a great thing to do. We had signed more, please and all done with my middle child, and I decided that we, as a family, were going to learn sign language. I was worried that she might never talk (for some reason) and wanted to be able to converse with her if she didn't. Plus I knew that learning another language is really good for children's brains, and decided that it would be a great exercise for my older children. We made it a family game. She knows over 200 signs, and has in the last several weeks been dropping the signs rapidly in favor of talking. We learned through Signing Time videos and Signing Savvy. We learned gradually, and I tried to mimic our sign acquisition to parallel the order a child learns language.

Worked her hands. I had a long scarf with fringe I'd let her pull on, and I'd pull back. Seems like we did that alot when she was about 6 months old waiting at therapy and doctors appointments.

Therapy should always be fun (and if you find a therapist who thinks and behaves otherwise, I'd probably find a new one) in my opinion. Any "work" you do with the baby at home should be fun. There can be a purpose behind everything you do, and you can do purposeful things all the time, even if you have a busy life. But I honestly believe that to your child (and your other children if you have them) it should only feel like you are the most fun parent in the whole world. Everything everything everything is a game, or play or being silly with me. But a lot of it has a purpose.

Eye tracking - I had a little mouse rattle that made a noise that I would play a game with Violette with from the first time I saw she could follow something with her eyes. I moved very slowly at first - up and down, left and right. Then I built up to adding corner to corner, circles, etc. I started all of this very slowly, and built up to very very very quickly that she could follow what I was doing. We started with short sessions, and built up to pretty long ones over time. I wanted her eyes to "look sharp" whatever that means, and thought if I could build up the speed she could follow things early on it would be a helpful muscle to build. The sound plus the colorful mouse were attractive to her, and I think she really liked that game a lot.

I did think of one regret - I heard an excellent session when she was about 2 related to teaching imitation skills. Apparently our kids have a hard time mimicking what other people are doing. In the session she talked about a very specific procedure of putting the child in the high chair, and encouraging them to imitate. So If I bang the high chair, then I say "your turn" and wait for the child to do it. If they don't, I prompt them to do it. You keep building on that until they start learning how to imitate motions and getting the idea of that. Then you work to have the child imitate sounds. Learning about improving her skills at imitating was really helpful to me, and helpful for me to help her learning to talk.

Those were the big things I could think of - any other bloggers want to contribute their list of things that worked (or things they wish they had known)?