Having helped with many adoptions and read up on international adoption, I know in my head that generally within the first 3-6 months most children will "lose" their first language gradually if they aren't exposed to it in their new home environment. From 6-9 months is generally a frustrating time for a child to express language since their thinking and speech and everything is "converting" to the second language. From 9-12 months, a child generally gets full language acquisition in their new language, of course within reason since learning is constant no matter whether adopted or moved between languages, etc.
Many parents note that their new children who don't have developmental delays are able to speak in full sentences in English as soon as 2-3 months after initial exposure, and by about 6 months appear to have full language acquisition.
Often times children with Down syndrome have no speech in their native tongue. Some cultures don't place importance or even really conceptually believe it is possible, on teaching children with Down syndrome to speak. Those children that are over age 4-5 that are having to acquire speech from the very beginning stages but are fully capable of learning often begin using words and phrases within the first 2-6 months and acquire decent communication, whether in full sentences or not, by around 5-6 months home. This doesn't mean they've learned their second language, but can communicate yes and no, understand general spoken commands given to them, and express their own basic needs such as toileting, playing, being hungry, or being hurt.
I'm speaking VERY generalized, and in this, none of my own children fit in to this model. Emma is not a child who "had no speech in her native tongue but was fully capable of learning, because she has other issues from her medical complexities. Micah was adopted at 18 months and at 4 1/2 is acquiring some speech, use of sign, and has recently begun following more complex directions and such.
Then, we come to Wesley, who has been home just over 6 full months now, and is understanding quite a bit of what is going on around him. He appropriately nods yes and no, and does so playfully telling us no with a big grin on his face when he wants to tease. He understands familiar basic commands such as to take his hands out of his mouth, to stop, to wait, to drink or eat, swallow, chew. He understands high five, to 'come here' (and he tries!), and other basic things that are within his realm of ability. He has some vocalizations which aren't quite getting in to understandable things for the most part, but he is trying... and part of his disability is his difficulty with the muscle control in his mouth.
Lastly, we have Aleksa, and the reason for my post :). Aleksa has also been home for 6 months and although from her social skills, her cognitive (seeming) ability in figuring out routines and her ability to adapt well to new situations, Aleksa has not developed much speech at all.
Here are some of the things she IS doing with some notes about some difficulties she may have with them:
- waving "hi" and "bye" and with visual prompting, approximating the words (though bye is not easy for her without a strong visual reminder). Her 'words' are all 2-syllable, therefore "hi" is "hiya" and "bye" is something with two syllables.. not always resembling 'bye'.
- requesting use of the restroom by signaling to her body parts which expel it... it works... for now...
- giving hugs, kisses, high fives, and handshakes to people if visually requested (or at random to strangers when we're not close enough to keep her from doing it!).
- getting her shoes out of the shoe drawer when asked to put them on (often requiring signing along with it). She can find her own play sandals, but church sandals she gets her own and Lynae's mixed up... they are different designs and sizes, but both pair are white...
- She can use the restroom independently and wipe independently with visual reminders to wipe her back side well, or a little assist.
- She can dress independently, putting her underwear on first, then shorts, shirt. She doesn't get them on in the right orientation (inside out, backward, etc). When asked to take her shorts off and fix them, she will often take off her shirt or vice versa. She doesn't recognize when she hasn't gotten her clothes on correctly and doesn't focus when we explain how to lay out her clothes so she has them on correctly, or when we point out the tags in the front, etc. if she has them on backward. She also will take off everything if she doesn't understand what is being said. For instance, if she puts on her shorts and underwear correctly then say "great job, Aleksa!" she may sit down and take them back off.
- Aleksa will hold her siblings' hands when we are out places and is good with staying close by us now. he will grin and start to stay back or walk another way, but when asked to come 'hold' (usually a hand or the side of a stroller), she will do so and stay with us.
- She has learned (usually) to wait to eat until everyone has sat down at the table for a meal and we've prayed together. She even folds her hands and bows her head to encourage us all to go faster, knowing that when we're done praying she can dig in :)
- Aleksa will help pick up toys, though she often invests her pick-up efforts in to signaling others with pointing and 'grunts' to pick the toys up rather than doing much of it herself, as we see in several other realms as well.
- Aleksa can put a nighttime pull up on and generally stays dry throughout the night. When she is getting dressed in the morning, she hasn't figured out that the diaper goes in the diaper pail and the clothes go in the hamper. After repeatedly telling her to put the diaper in the pail, almost every morning we have to signal to the diaper pail to get her to put the diaper in it, and open the hamper for her clothes. She "freezes up" when she thinks she is doing something wrong, and will stand there "flipping" whatever she has (diaper, if it's when she's changing clothes, or her underwear/shorts/shirt if she's been asked to take one of those off and fix it).
So... there's a little glimpse into our world. I by no means think that she is just ignoring us completely, though it has been a thought. We are having her hearing tested next month. She appears to hear sounds, at the very least, but she doesn't appear to have picked up much language at all. It's as if she hasn't been hearing us speak to here continuously for the last 6 months... to have learned some basic things like underwear, shorts, shirt.
She seems to come when called, and follows routines well. I'm really at a loss as to what we're really dealing with (as far as her not gaining language goes) if it's not her hearing. Aleksa appears to be doing very well and for lack of a better way to put it, she is "mid-high" functioning as far as her physical abilities, memory, and social aspects of life. YES, we are having bonding difficulties, but that is unrelated to this (and slowly making strides in the right direction). And yet... we are still struggling SO MUCH with language.
This is probably the most frustrating part of life right now for us and her. We are signing with her all the time, and she is repeating some signs as well as using some independently. She is very good at figuring out the "means to an end" and will sign more, please, thank you, sorry, etc... when she has needs.
So... if you've adopted a child with Down syndrome that seems to have a potential for developing language (whether they used their first language or not), would you share? How old was your child at adoption and how long before they began to acquire language? There are 4 types of language... receptive (understanding), expressive (speaking), body language (social/ situational), and sign language (actual signs learned). Right now, the first two we are at about 4-5 words each. MAYBE. The second two, we're doing pretty well.