Jill Clements-Baartman knows what a difference speech can make in a person's life. Since she began working with people with Down syndrome in the early 1980s, she has seen a world of opportunities open up for those who develop their language skills.
"It's extremely important,"says Ms. Clements-Baartman, a speech pathologist involved in a summer literacy program being launched next month by the Durham Down Syndrome Association.
"They're very capable individuals and basically everything in our daily lives depends upon effective communication so the more that we can support effective communication, as well as literacy skills, the greater access that they have to activities in the community."
The program offers participants, ages 10 and older, a chance to interact with one another while engaging in various activities, including pottery, wood sculpting and bowling.
"On the Monday and Tuesday, there are specific language and literacy goals for each of the participants and then the Thursday, they work at home to develop a presentation and that can be a whole range of different things, depending on the individuals'abilities,"says Ms. Clements-Baartman.
The Durham Down Syndrome Association is a non-profit charitable organization, which supports families and other members of the community in working to improve life for people with Down syndrome.
Ms. Clements-Baartman, who's been involved with the organization for nearly 20 years, currently runs a direct therapy program called Talking, Language and Communication for children with special needs at a nursery school in Whitby.
Speech improvement is one of the biggest challenges for people with Down syndrome, according to association chairman Walter Heeney.
"Parents'biggest problem when their child is one to five years old is wondering how to get them to express themselves so you've got them learning a bit of sign language and anything you can before they get into the school system,"he says.
Equipped with heightened communication skills, those with Down syndrome -- including Mr. Heeney's daughter Jan, who has been working as a librarian assistant at a school in Pickering for the past 13 years -- can make the most of their lives, he adds.
"I've got young kids in this program that are 20 and they're coming out of high school next year. It's our challenge to help them get a job, whether it's volunteer or paid. It's about having a position and somewhere to go to be part of a team."