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Orla's story: how books help her make sense of the world

Orla with Baby's Very First Black and White Book Faces © Danny Da Costa
Orla with Baby's Very First Black and White Book Faces. Photo © Danny Da Costa

Orla (age 2) has Down’s syndrome and moderate hearing loss – but the discovery of Usborne’s Baby’s Very First Black and White Books is helping her to build her language skills. To celebrate International Down Syndrome Awareness month, her mother Mariam tells her story:

Orla loves books. It’s her favourite corner at nursery and she likes pulling the books off the shelf and putting them back again. She loves to turn the pages and point at pictures that interest her, excitedly babbling away to herself.

Orla found the Usborne’s Baby's Very First Black and White books on the floor where I had put them during a tidy up of her room. Ever since she started confidently crawling, back in June, we have let her explore her surroundings and engage with whatever interests her.

She picked up the little books and was immediately enthralled by them. Their small size meant she could hold them in her hand and easily turn the pages. But what was really amazing to us was that she would open the Faces book to a drawing of a child pointing at its nose, and point to her nose! Or she would open the Animals book on the page with the duck, and make the sign for ‘duck’ (she loves ducks). 

Children with Down’s syndrome often have delayed speech, but their understanding of language develops in just the same way as other children. Ever since Orla was very small, we have been encouraged to sign with her, so that she has a means of expression before she starts talking. We have learnt to follow Orla’s lead and to add language wherever she finds something interesting.

With the Baby's Very First Black and White Books, we started to make the appropriate signs for the images in the books as Orla turned the pages. If she didn’t know the sign herself, she would hold the book out for us to show her, and then copy us. It challenged us to learn the signs we didn’t know, so we’re all learning from these books.

Orla touching her nose
Orla pointing to her nose

Orla touching her nose
Orla with her dad, pointing to her chin

Orla spends ages exploring these little books one by one, learning language as she goes. A speech and language therapist who assessed her recently was impressed that she was engaging in this way with drawings – children with Down’s syndrome often learn vocabulary first from photographs and then from drawings, which are more abstract. 

We are now on the second set of these little books. The first set – which were given to us by a dear friend – are much the worse for wear by now. They have been used as teething relief, vomited on and the pages torn where they stuck together, and I think we lost the all-important Faces on a train back from Glasgow.

That’s another good thing about these books – they are extremely portable and have become a reliable staple among the toys we take with us when we travel. It would be lovely to have more of these books on different themes so we can all learn some new vocabulary!

See all Baby's Very First Black and White Books.

Mariam Rosser-Owen (mother of Orla)

Tags: baby books


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