Activities for the first 2 Years

Focussing on Interaction and Communication with your Baby – Activities to help speech and language development in the first two years of life

By Clare Carroll BSc., MSc., MIASLT, MRCSLT, National University of Ireland Galway

We can often focus on what a child is not doing rather than what they are doing. We often talk about what they should be doing for their age or compare one child with another. We also need to recognise that each child is unique and progresses at his/her own pace. There are times when a child with Down syndrome is compared to children who are following typical development and times when parents think about how the child will develop in the future. There is now a lot more information and guidelines on typical development for children with Down syndrome which you can follow and are available on

It is only natural that you want to make comparisons and that you will be considering the future but it is important for you to focus on:

    • what your child is doing now
    • what his/her strengths are
    • what he/she likes/dislikes
    • reading and trying to understand and interpret what your child is telling you.

A child with Down syndrome has areas of strength and we need to focus on these, for example, their social understanding and visual skills. We need to focus on helping them learn by showing them so that they can watch and copy therefore using his/her strengths to help learning. When we focus on speech and language development we need to recognise that hearing and vision are important factors for development and you will need to have these areas assessed by the relevant professionals on a regular basis. Play, motor and social and emotional development are also important to consider as one area impacts on another.

DVD material and resources are available that help support you to facilitate your child’s development available from

Down syndrome -the first 18months DVD produced by Will Schermerhorn (available from the Down Syndrome Ireland shop )

Development checklists on speech, vocabulary, interaction, grammar are available via the Down syndrome issues and information series of books

Other information

Information for parents- Down syndrome: book produced by Early Support (available from

Hanen parent programmes are very useful for guidance to facilitate language development. The programme ‘It takes two to talk’ has an easy readable book and a DVD that models good interaction strategies to facilitate language development in everyday settings. These can be purchased from Down Syndrome Ireland shop

How do you facilitate joint attention, participation, intention and language learning?

Important areas for communication development are:

    • Early meaning (pre-linguistic development)
    • Joint attention
    • Participation
    • Intention
    • Language learning

Your aim in the first year of life is to attract your child’s attention and to hold that attention. You want your child to attend to people, objects and events in his/her everyday setting. You want your child to interact with his/her environment.

How can I help my child to develop communication skills?

You as a parent are the best teacher.

Your child is learning all the time.

It is useful to spend a little time on a planned activity every day.

Your child must be able to see and hear the toy/person/activity and it must be interesting to him/her.

Your child learns when he or she is attending to an activity and interested in it.

It is important to follow what your child is interested in and when he or she loses interest in something and moves to another item or activity you follow their interest. You then establish a mutual interest in activities.

Have fun together.

What toys/objects are babies and small children interested in?

Babies are more interested in people and then they become interested in toys, for example, mobiles, flashing lights, pop-up toys, bells and rattles.

Babies and small children are very interested in objects that move, make noise, and have lights.

How do I interact with my baby?

When you want to start an interaction it is important that you:

Observe your child, WAIT and Listen

Be Face to Face with your child so that your child can focus attention on your face.

Be at your child’s physical level, get on the floor beside your child; hold your baby on your lap and support your baby’s head, give him/her time to relax and focus on you.

(It Takes Two To Talk, Hanen Program,

You want your child to focus on your eyes and your mouth and to try and engage in a conversation. Language learning can be nurtured by smiling faces and attending to the faces.

Physical contact with your baby is very important.

    • Touch is a primary avenue for emotional communication.
    • It helps you understand your infant’s level of excitement, comfort, pleasure and displeasures.
    • Signals from your child allow you to adjust the manner in which you hold your infant or consider other physical needs.

The face and head become important for communication very early.

You are watching and waiting to see what your baby does.

When they make a sound or move their face you imitate the sounds and/ or the actions.

Interpret what your baby has said/tried to say – e.g. if your child yawns, you will interpret this as ‘oh you are sleepy’. You are helping your child manage their feelings by interpreting what their cries mean. Your baby is relying on you to help manage their feelings.

You want to help your baby to take turns, for example, they make a sound, you imitate, they make another sound, you imitate again, they make an action, and you imitate the action.

    • You can pull faces, make lip shapes, stick your tongue in and out, encourage him/her to explore your face with his fingers and feel your lips when you make sounds and wait to see will your child copy you. Your aim will be to develop your child’s awareness of your face and oral motor movements you make and also to develop your child’s awareness of their own face and make oral motor movements in imitation and/or on their own.
    • You can make sounds, sing, and talk to your baby. When parents talk to babies they use what is called infant directed speech or baby talk. This is where a parent uses short sentences, exaggerates the intonation and stress of their speech and raises the pitch of their voice.
    • You can use your fingers to attract your child’s attention by carrying out finger-play and rhymes, for example, Round and Round the Garden and This Little Piggie Went to the Market etc.
    • Place your child where he can see you and watch what you are doing. Then you become the interesting object to him. Talk to him about what you are doing.

Comment on what they are showing interest in, what they are looking at, what they are listening to, for example, you will have followed his/her gaze and you notice that he/she is looking at a dog and you will comment ‘there’s a dog, he goes woof woof’

How do I use toys to interact with my baby?

    • Observe your child, WAIT and Listen

You are watching your child, waiting, listening and then responding.

It is important that you give your child time to process the information he/she is receiving from the environment around him. You will get an idea of how long you need to wait as each child’s ability to process information is different.

    • You need to have your child’s attention
    • Take Turns

Verbal – your child makes a sound or a word and you reply by repeating or answering their question/comment.

Nonverbal – you can take turns non-verbally by imitating gestures or facial expressions or actions or moving an action on to the next stage, for example, child touches dolly’s head and then you can stroke dolly’s head; rolling a ball back and forth to each other; clapping; banging.

    • You need to respond sensitively to your child’s signals and cues. Don’t worry if you find them hard to read as this can be difficult when your baby is sick or tired. You will learn your child’s signals.
    • Your aim is to help your child watch, listen and interact with you for longer periods of time.
    • Some play activities may need to be adapted to help your child take part. Helping your child to be in an appropriate position with support will help them to focus on the toys. For example, your child might need head support or shoulder support. If your child is unbalanced when they are sitting, they will find it difficult to focus on interacting and reaching and holding toys. You will need to pay attention to your child’s body and you will see what positions they like and dislike and what positions help them to explore and interact with their environment. Your physiotherapist and occupational therapist will give you more advice on helping your child’s physically stability too so that they can interact with the world around them.
    • With toys we want to encourage reaching and holding toys. If the toy is very interesting to your child they will reach for it.
    • Repeat Run Routines and Use Everyday Routines

Establish routines with toys, that is, a ritual to how the toy or song or game happens. When you repeat activities in the same way each time you are helping your child anticipate what comes next in the routine and you are letting them know what is going to happen next. You are building an interaction and attachment with your baby.

    • Use Gestures and Facial Expression: Your child has strengths in learning visually so you can build on this strength to learn language. (See LAMH leaflet).

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