New Insights Into the Speech of People with Down Syndrome


Children with Down syndrome usually have delayed speech and language development, as well as speech impairments. These speech issues add to the stigmas associated with Down syndrome.

A new study looks at the speech of individuals with Down syndrome, with hopes of improving treatment for them. The study by Micalle Carl, who earned her Ph.D. at The Graduate Center; GC Professor Douglas Whalen, and other researchers, is published in the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research.

“For someone with Down syndrome, their speech is often difficult to understand. And sometimes that can be very frustrating for the speaker and the listener,” Carl tells SUM. “More research is needed to understand the nature of speech disorder. Socially, there are more and more individuals with Down syndrome who are engaged parts of society. Being able to contribute to the understanding of a person with Down syndrome’s speech is an incredible thing.”

The researchers monitored the speech of eight young adults with Down syndrome alongside eight young adults of the same age and gender who do not have Down syndrome. They looked at how the individuals with Down syndrome expressed vowels, and how well those without Down syndrome were able to understand them.

The authors found that deficits in motor control play a part in the overall speech impairment of people with Down syndrome.

“One of the common myths about a person with Down syndrome is that their tongue is large and that’s what causes their speech to be impaired. But what we found from this research is that may not be a major factor at all,” Carl says.

“It’s not, to a large degree, that physically the tongue is impeding. But there are other processes having to do with speech that are affecting how clear they are to someone who is listening.”

Carl says she hopes that the findings can be used to improved speech treatment for individuals with Down syndrome.

“More research is needed to understand the nature of the speech disorder,” she tells SUM “Understanding that nature eventually leads to being able to develop appropriate treatments, and developing appropriate treatments is incredibly important.”

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work

Vowel Acoustics and Speech Intelligibility in Young Adults With Down Syndrome
Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 2020

Work By

Micalle Carl (Former Ph.D. student, Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences) | Profile 1
Douglas Whalen (Distinguished Professor, Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools

The Graduate Center