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Beginning to Read

All children with Down syndrome not only deserve the right to sit in “regular” classrooms, but the right to be taught and expected to learn. They can and will learn. Our question should be: how much will we teach?

Jordan’s speech therapy, provided by Jeannie at William Beaumont Hospital in Michigan, was extraordinary. It was also what I would call a pre-reading program. I describe this simply as a mother, not a speech therapist or an educator.
    
Jeannie initially worked with Jordan on muscle issues, making faces in a mirror, sucking through a straw, blowing bubbles--all exercises to develop those hard-to-reach oral motor muscles. He already made sounds but as his muscle control improved, so did his sounds.

Very early on, Jeannie worked on sentence structure. There would be no “me go in car” with her, it was “I want to go in the car.” To accomplish this, she used a physical symbol for every word. “The boy is swinging” became a blue block representing the word “The;” a Little Tykes male figure, “boy;” a green block, “is;” a picture of a child on a swing, “swinging.” And so with visual support, sentence structure became meaningful. The one-to-one correlation of language was clearly established.
    
When Jordan was about 4, I discovered my old business cards in a drawer at home. I took out a two-inch-thick supply and wrote a word on the back of each. “I,” “love,” “you,” “Daddy,” “Mommy,” “Harper,” “Kevin,” “Grammy” and “Grampy” for starters. The small stack of cards fit neatly in my purse or pocket. When we had time, we pulled them out and used them. Harper, a year older, usually got the privilege of sequencing the cards into sentences such as, “I love Mommy.” As Jordan’s skills improved, we put in new words like “loves” which required him to see the need to change subjects as in, “Harper loves Daddy.” The game was fun, it was meaningful, and we used it everywhere.
    
By the time he entered kindergarten, Jordan was a reader. He was a reader not because he is brilliant or because we, as parents, had specialized backgrounds. He was and continues to be a reader because his parents, grandparents and brothers believed in his ability to learn.

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