Down Syndrome, Screen Time & Speech


Toddlers’ Screen Time Linked to Slower Speech Development.  

What Might Be The Implications for Toddlers with Special Needs or Children with Down Syndrome?

While not addressing the big question swirling around in many moms’ minds, “How much time should my child spend with a mobile device?” a recent article on this topic does zero in on a very important aspect of child development. And while not addressing toddlers with special needs, it certainly had me thinking of the implications for our families and children with Down syndrome. And even the pre-school environments in which they may spend a good deal of their days.

Down Syndrome & Screen Time

As I read this article (and several related ones), I felt it important to share its information as it relates of our loved ones.  We know that for the majority of our young ones, speech, especially expressive speech, is delayed.  And for many, that challenge continues into adulthood.  So why would we want to exacerbate the situation by following a practice that could further delay our children’s progress?  By being informed, we can further study topics and come to conclusions that work for us and our families, including extended family and care giver environments.

I’d like to highlight a few points from that article by Nsikan Akpan, digital science producer for PBS NewsHour, then give you the link to the article.

  • Using routine well child visits for nearly 900 toddlers, aged 6-24 months from 2011-2015, Dr. Catherine Birken, a pediatrician and scientist, asked parents to estimate the amount of time their children spent on hand-held screens each day.
  • By the 18-month check-up, 20% spent an average of 28 minutes each day on a mobile device.
  • She and her team compared each child to the Infant Toddler Checklist—an instrument which can reveal signs of delayed communication development.
  • Results? “children who spent more time with hand-held screens were more likely to exhibit signs of a delay in expressive speech.” and “each additional 30 minutes was linked to a 49% increased risk?

So What Do We Do?

Ipad and Down Syndrome Education
  • Realize the problem lies more with HOW we use the devices rather than the device itself. (Think baby sitter vs. singing songs together).
  • Connect what is on the screen with what is happening in the real world surrounding your child. (animals on screen with real animals; letters on screen with print in books or cereal boxes)
  • Discriminate. Look for apps (such as Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood) that encompasses parent-child interactions.
  • Be cautious of educational apps targeted for children younger than 24 months.

Additional Thoughts

Parents want the best for their children. And my experience shows me that parents whose children have Down syndrome work especially hard at doing this.  So the more we are sensitive to the ways we can use mobile devices to HELP our children with communication, the more ways we will find to do so.

So who is the mobile device guide in my family?  At 36, my son, Casey, definitely takes the lead. Astute at using his device for bus schedules, Facebook, movie schedules, Instagram, Itunes, karaoke, et al.  He tries to help his father and me keep pace with shortcuts, useful apps, and tricks like how to block solicitors on the cell phones.

Click here for link to the article.​

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