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Reading Programs for Children with Down Syndrome

Studies have shown that children with Down syndrome CAN learn to read at an early ageAND that reading can become strength in their learning [Read more…]

Reading can be a strength and support learning and language

Down Syndrome Education International has been tweeting their 21 reasons why research on education makes a difference in the lives of individuals with Down Syndrome. No. 3 is that

Reading can be a strength and support learning and language

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Successful Strategies for Beginning Readers with Down Syndrome

From DSRFCanada here is a very useful 30-minute video outlines their successful strategies for beginning readers and contains both practical ideas as well as footage of these ideas in practice. It is never too early or too late for learning to read and these strategies can be used with very young children to the adult learner.

For any parent of a child with Down syndrome, Professor Sue Buckley is awesome.

She presents a combination of inspiration, passion, rigorously tested empirical data and the wisdom that comes only from lived experience. Once you understand this, you listen. And every single thing she says makes perfect sense.

At the Down Syndrome Education Conference hosted by the DSFOC at UC Irvine in February, Professor Buckley spent a good part of the day sharing her data, practical advice and parental wisdom. She started with her life story and how she came to devote her career and much of her personal life to educating people with Down syndrome.

In 1987 Professor Buckley established a new charity Down Syndrome Education International based in the UK, In part as she needed programs to collect data from. DSE has developed a number of programs and resources. Most recently they have launched the Reading and Language Intervention Program. Professor Buckley has also been involved in the design of DSFOC’s Learning Program available in Newport Beach and through Club 21 in Pasadena and now Online for distant learners.

After completing a Bachelors degree in Psychology at the University of Reading in 1968, Sue Buckley was working as a clinical psychologist. At that time, as we know, most children with Down syndrome were institutionalized often at a young age and Professor Buckley worked with these children. She and her husband adopted a 15 month old baby with Down syndrome, Roberta, one of the institutionalized children that she was working with. And so began her adventure as a parent of a child with Down syndrome. But at that time things were very different. Children like Roberta weren’t even allowed to go to school in the UK till 1975 and then it was to a special school segregated from the general population. The special school didn’t teach Roberta much and there were many things she wouldn’t learn till she was a young adult. Sue Buckley shared so much of the wisdom gained as Roberta’s mother. Particular I took away the importance of treating people with Down syndrome as the age that they are. As an adult Roberta (she is now 43) has a life of her own, a boyfriend, goals and interests. She continues to learn and develop.

At the same time, as a psychologist, Professor Buckley became interested in the question of how the extra chromosome effected learning. She worked on developing the most effective early interventions, therapies and educational programs. Buckley has studied the development of language, literacy, numeracy, memory and cognition.

Emerging from her data came the realization that children with Down syndrome were better at learning when surrounded by typical peers. She worked towards getting children mainstreamed in typical classrooms but also collected the data that shows that it works. Today in the UK most children with Down syndrome are fully included. The model of inclusive education that she presented, with data to demonstrate its benefits is of great interest to those of us in California striving to achieve a similar placement.

Buckley was also an early proponent of teaching children with Down syndrome to read, at a time when they were not thought capable of learning to read at all by most professionals. In 1979 a letter from a father who had taught his daughter with DS to read using flashcards lead Buckley’s team to investigate teaching reading. Her research showed that teaching children with DS to read not only sped up their learning but also their speech and language.

This recent graphic shows just why reading is so important. It shows how different aspects of development are effected by DS adjusting for cognitive delay. Here are the strengths and weakness of the children with DS are compared with typical peers who have the same non-verbal mental age. The graph shows that children with DS have a specific speech and language delay – its not just part of parcel of underdeveloped cognition. It shows that learning from listening is a weakness and visual learning is a strength. It shows why teaching a child to read can actually help them learn to speak. But this profile is not set in stone; intervention can change it. By using strengths on the right side of the graph to develop the challenges on the left. For example Buckley said that grammar is a weakness even in spite of language delay and that this can be developed by learning vocabulary – and again best way to do that is by reading personalized books.

What struck me was that Buckley’s data tells us exactly the same as Terry Brown recommends. Reading is the key, words, flashcards, personalized books. DSE and DSE USA offer lots of materials and research – go online and explore.

What are you doing for World Down Syndrome Day?

SBDSA is thrilled to announce that we will be hosting Terry Brown on Saturday March 22nd (the day after World Down Syndrome Day). Terry is going to teach us some of her techniques for teaching children with Down Syndrome. If you came last year – this is “Terry Brown Part II”.

Please circulate this link to the flyer to all the educators that you know. Teachers, Paraprofessionals and SBDSA Members are free.TB SBDSA Promo V5

Teaching reading skills to children with Down syndrome


All children with Down syndrome benefit from being read to and from taking part in reading instruction from an early age. Research evidence shows that these activities will improve their spoken language and memory skills.

Children with Down syndrome learn to read in the same way as typically developing children. They build on their good visual memory skills but find it more difficult to use phonics. In other words, they benefit from learning to read through a ‘whole-word’ learning strategy to start with, bringing in phonics knowledge at a later date.

While children who are introduced to reading in their preschool years show the highest levels of achievement, studies indicate that teenagers and young adults with Down syndrome can continue to develop their reading abilities if given appropriate instruction.

Up for Reading – Teaching reading skills to children with Down syndrome