Speech and language characteristics of Down syndrome

Generally, children with Down syndrome may have certain issues or developmental delays with their speech and communication skills. Here are some of the commonly identified problems in speech and communication.


Children with Down syndrome experience conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, or both. Hearing loss may range from mild to profound which can affect one or both ears of the individual.

Loss of hearing is related concurrently to issues in proper comprehension of grammatical complexities and vocabulary for individuals with Down syndrome

Otitis media is one cause of mild to moderate fluctuating conductive hearing loss when accompanied by middle ear fluid. Children affected by Down syndrome may be particularly susceptible to ear infection or otitis media, mainly due to the auditory canals being narrow and differences in the cranial facial nerves.

Cognitive skills:

Children with Down syndrome may have moderate intellectual disability, although there are cases of individuals with severe intellectual disability and the rest may have average IQ scores.

For children and adolescents with Down syndrome, Phonological memory skills being impaired (can be measured with nonword repetition) may be linked with weaker comprehension of language, reduced mean length of utterance (MLU), and therefore difficulty in reading.

However, Individuals with Down syndrome have a relatively strong Visuo-spatial processing and perception.

Social skills:

According to a lot of people, social interaction is considered to be a major precursor to language acquisition skills. Social skills appear to be commensurate with mental age in the early development of an young children (0-4 years) with Down syndrome

Pre-linguistic vocal development and early nonverbal communication skills:

The frequency and overall variety of consonants and vowels produced, as well as the age of onset of repeated consonant-vowel combinations (reduplicated and canonical babbling), are reportedly similar for infants with Down syndrome and typically developing infants. Canonical babbling, was found to be delayed by about two months for Down syndrome children. Indication of gestures (e.g., pointing to toys within reach, showing) and its frequency is reportedly similar to a typically developing young children.


Young individuals with Down syndrome may have a difficulty in expressing their language skills even though they have similar receptive skills when compared to normal individuals


Exhibition of phonological errors are a commonly found trait with children affected by Down syndrome. Inconsistency of errors may be particularly characteristic of the phonological disorder in Down syndrome children, with them continuing to use phonological processes (systematic sound error and simplification patterns) for longer periods than a typically developing children.


Challenges with relation to pragmatic skills include initiation and elaboration of topics, initiating communicative repairs, and sometime understanding the linguistic aspects of a narrative.

Oral-motor skills:

Individuals with Down syndrome may have an issue with proper speech production due to differences in their oral structure and function. Structural differences may include a smaller oral cavity with a relatively large tongue and a narrow, high arched palate.

Down syndrome affected Individuals may show differences in the structure of their lips, tongue, and velopharynx, and are less skilled at speech motor functions and coordinated speech movements involving the lips, tongue, velopharynx, and larynx.

These differences are related to poor speech intelligibility through dysarthric factors such as reduced speed, range of motion, and coordination of the articulators.

These are some of the common speech and language characteristics found among individuals with Down syndrome. Getting an early diagnosis to Down syndrome may positively affect the life of children through proper treatments, training and therapies, improving their day to day wellness.

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