Bryony's early reading progress

Tberesa Smissen discusses her daughter Bryony's early reading progress

Smissen, T. (2003) Bryony's early reading progress. Down Syndrome News and Update, 3(3), 90-90. doi:10.3104/dsupdate.241

Dear Professor Buckley,

I felt I had to write and say how inspired I felt by your talk in Harrow on Saturday. To hear you speak so passionately and eloquently brought me close to tears a number of times during the day. Thank you so much. I am a single mother of four children, the youngest of whom is 5 and she has Down syndrome, and I have been trying for years to get down to Portsmouth to hear you speak but domestic circumstances have prevented me, so I was thrilled to be able to hear you in Harrow. I was originally inspired by a video you made about learning to read and I decided then to try it out with Bryony, with the result that she was reading fifty-odd flashcards at 2 and a half, and now at 5 is keeping pace with her peers in Class 1.

Bryony reading

Bryony reading

I found the concept of errorless learning to be crucial factor in Bryony's development. For example, when I first introduced flashcards to her, they had the word on one side and the picture on the other, so if she didn't always get the word right, I turned it over and she correctly identified the picture instead. This always delighted her!

The first actual reading books I introduced were the Ladybird ones, which are not used in school any more, but were great for Bryony because the 'plot' was so simple and the words related so easily to the pictures. When she could read the book herself, I made cards of all the words in it and we then played games of making up different sentences ourselves.

The reading has had an amazing effect on her speech and language - she speaks in sentences most of the time now. When she was younger, I made her a range of cards representing different things she wanted to do, so if she said just one word, I asked her to find the card with the whole sentence and read it to me, e.g. "Please may I have a drink?", "I want to go to the toilet", "I want to go outside". She is now speaking quite well although I still encourage her to read her sentence cards if she gets lazy!

I found your comments about The Oxford Reading Tree very interesting, because my only criticism of them is that Bryony misses the point and therefore is not "reading for meaning". We have therefore decided to substitute it with the 'Conversation Diary', which hopefully will be more effective. Bryony has always enjoyed dictating things to me which she then reads back, so it will be just doing that in a more formal way.

Although Bryony reads fluently and willingly to me, she has recently stopped reading at school which has baffled all her teachers who already know what she is capable of.

Her writing is not as advanced as her reading but we're working on it. She likes to write in her own way for hours on end but doesn't take very well to suggestions for improvement!

I can't tell you how grateful I have felt over the last five years, and every time things get difficult I just have to dip in to the literature I've collected from you and I feel inspired to go on again. You must be very proud of the world of possibilities you've opened up for people with Down syndrome.

Thank you again,

Yours sincerely,

Theresa Smissen

Hertfordshire, UK