Five Instructional Strategies for Children with Down syndrome

Children with Down syndrome are capable learners who are excited and eager to learn. They just need to be given the opportunity to excel. They may learn at a slower pace, but are more than capable of learning. They are strong visual learners. This means that they understand what they see better than what they hear.

Children with Down syndrome have specific points associated with their learning development:
1. They are visual learners.
2. They understand a lot more than they can say.
3. They are able to follow classroom rules and routines.
4. They need help to remember instructions – use shorter phrases or visual clues.
5. Teacher’s expectations of behavior, attitude and ability should be high.
6. Children with Down syndrome can learn. However, we need to make compromises so that their educational needs can be met in the classroom. Since they are visual learners, teaching reading to students with Down syndrome should be characterized by a strong emphasis on visual learning. Visual demonstrations, pictures and illustrations can also be successfully used to assist in providing effective instruction in other subject areas of the curriculum. Lessons in phonics should be included in the curriculum for the learner with Down syndrome.

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The use of manipulatives can be beneficial in the development of number concepts. The use of physical demonstrations and activities are important when teaching math concepts.

Students with Down syndrome generally demonstrate good social skills, which can be utilized to increase learning and teaching opportunities. When speaking to a student with Down syndrome, it is important to speak directly to them using clear language and short sentences. You should allow adequate time for the child to process what you have said and respond. Positive reinforcements should be used for students with Down syndrome to boost their self-esteem and positive learning experience. This should be done both at home and school.

33 Comments

  1. Michelle Quinn on March 27, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    Thanks for this excellent short list of instructional strategies. As an SLP who supervises graduate students in a university clinic setting, some of whom serve preschoolers with Down Syndrome, it is validating to know what techniques are shown to work well in other settings. Thanks for sharing!

    • disha daga on August 28, 2014 at 4:27 am

      Thank u so much for sharing this.. being a mother of a downs baby I always worried about his education and his future.this will definitely help me..

      • Doreen Mashami on April 29, 2020 at 4:15 pm

        Thank you so much for the guidance. i love my baby boy so much, i believe his future will be bright. This is an encouragement for Parents with DS Children. thanks again.
        Doreem.

  2. Jennifer Riley on January 30, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    My daughter is in 5ht grade but is 13. The school district does not seem to understand the importance of consistency and after the winter break she had difficulty with her behavior being aggressive towards her friends. The school decided to switch her from one ONE on ONE TA to 3 different TAs in a day and things are really getting unpredictable she tests boundaries. I also have the children who are use to seeing her with one TA, asking why they are changing things at school and they feel less safe. Do you have any advise as my daughter has a behavior plan with strategies listed in her IEP but the school seems to ignore them. We are meeting with Administrators on 2/3/15 and we have facts to review – every year they change her TA, we have behavior issues and they refuse to allow us to state that she needs ONE consistent TA in her IEP. Do you have any advise? Our daughter is very high functioning and she is the highest of the 6 other children in the classroom where she receives CORE SUPPORT so each year it is a struggle for us to get the expectations to be higher than the others. We refuse to send her on the “shopping, banking and movie” field trips that the others attend because we tell them school is for learning to read, write and do math – not for life skills at this stage of the game. Our daughter reads at nearly a 4th grade level so we have high expectations and school is for academics not life skills. An IEP is just that – an individual education plan and we should not have to lower our expectations just because the rest of the case load is less able – each family has its own strungles/goals. We would love some help with this ongoing battle!

    • Michelle Cook on October 22, 2015 at 11:50 pm

      What state do you currently live in? I am an educational advocate and I advocate for children with learning disabilities or special needs. The school system doesn’t listen to parents. They think we are overprotective and want special treatment for our children. When all we want is for our children to be educated like other students. If you like you can give me a call and I can give you some suggestions. I will tell you though that you are going to need to hire an advocate. An advocate can ensure your child’s IEP is customized to them. In addition, most districts act different when an advocate or an attorney comes on board. I cannot tell you how many parents call me with horror stories about how they have begged the district for help. Never beg them. They are supposed to educate your child. As an advocate my job is to ensure they do just that. You can either call or email me. Whatever you prefer.

      Michelle
      404-988-4411

      • Cathy Fess on March 4, 2020 at 2:06 pm

        I would love more information to help my son and to better advocate for him.

      • Shawna Spence on March 11, 2021 at 8:29 pm

        Suggesting a school system doesn’t listen is how you make your money. Shameful that is your position.

        It is reasonable to rotate TAs or paras in this situation. Consistency doesn’t have to be the person.

      • Zana on April 26, 2021 at 4:38 pm

        Hi my name is Zana and I just read your post and I am wondering if you are available to talk? I have a son and he will be 5 in August he has down syndrome. He is just starting pre k but I just need either some advice and have a few questions of concern.

    • J. Litton on August 6, 2016 at 2:10 pm

      Scholing is to prepare students for life, therefore, it is life skills training. Field trips are authentic learning showing students how the skills learned in school are used in life outside of school. Therefore, the importance of field trips connected to what is being learned in school. Therefore, academics equals life skills training. Reading, writing, math is all used in your life outside of school, therefore, again, life skills training.

    • Jessica Graves on August 10, 2016 at 8:53 pm

      I hate to say this, but bring an advocate or lawyer to the IEP meeting with you. Both if possible, it sends a message that you will not allow your child’s education to suffer for the sake of making it easier for them.

      • Jim Stevens on October 16, 2017 at 1:28 pm

        I would be careful with this advice. Often times those who bring this kind of intimidation create a hostile relationship that isn’t beneficial for the student. My advice would be to have a strong relationship with those involved in the students education.

      • Jill Webb on August 13, 2020 at 11:32 am

        I can assure you that is not the message it sends.

        • Shawna Spence on March 11, 2021 at 8:33 pm

          It is the message you’re sending. Jim is correct. Schools are accountable. We know that. Bringing an attorney is threatening. Changing TAs throughout the day is reasonable and is not a matter of what is easier. It’s a matter of being reasonable. Some advocates have helped situations, but many have no idea what the legal requirements are. It’s obvious when the advocates suggest the meetings go longer (than necessary) or recommend multiple meetings for something that can be accomplished in one. An attorney only means the school division will bring their SB attorney. So, pretty poor advice, Jill.

          • tanya lee on March 13, 2021 at 9:44 pm

            I think when you have exhausted all your resources, bringing an advocate or lawyer is the best choice. I have been advocating for my son for the past 5 years. The district is always saying they can do this or they can’t do that. Then come to find out it isn’t true. I’m done with their lies.



    • Griselda Rendon on September 1, 2016 at 6:21 am

      Hi Jennifer, my name is Griselda I have a daughter with down syndrome too she will be 12 in october. My daughter she is really high functioning too, but I’m really concern about how school is not giving her the right tools for her to grow academecly.please I need your advice I really need it, I haven’t been able to sleep just to think about what else I should do. Please help!!

      • kinna on November 17, 2016 at 1:50 am

        hi Griselda … going trough the same difficulties as u r passing through….Really cant sleep thinking over. Finding absolutely no way out. where r u residing? kinnakhan@hotmail.com contact me for resourse sharing

    • Maryam Thomas on March 6, 2018 at 6:54 pm

      Did you guys do a reading program? how did you teach your child to read? Ours is going to 4th grade and is still at CVS reading.

  3. vieginia lopez on May 21, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    Hi!

    It has been over a year since you shared this comment. Did you get what you were asking from the school? how is your child now?

  4. Ghazal on October 22, 2016 at 3:26 am

    Kindly tell me that is it any cataguary or stages of down? My son is 9 months old he can sit for 10 minutes then he bows down on his legs.becomes tired …he has still no teeth ..his hearing n vision is good…I go to Kdsp for his thropy..according to them he is good in his age…I want him to be in school in his school going age…kindly guide me furthermore… Thanks

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  7. Rochelle Wilson on February 21, 2017 at 3:54 am

    Hi!

    Just came across this site, and thought I’d add to the old conversation. I’ve been homeschooling for the past 15 yrs, so I have a different perspective on the learning aspect of our special kiddos. Our daughter just turned 14 and reads American Girl books independently. I found that teaching her sight words & practicing a list of 10 words each week really improved her reading skills! I wish that I had done that earlier in her school years. As far as math goes, she is at the 3rd grade level. We’re still working on addition & subtraction facts, but moving on to multiplication. And by multiplication I mean, simple facts such as: multiplying by zero, one, five, and ten. She’s high functioning, too, but I refuse to accept minimal from her. I am inspired by those who have trailed before us, so our work is cut out for us! I do make allowances, and have learned when to stop pushing her. She loves music, art, and ballet(which she performed for 1 yr). I hope this is encouraging, and don’t ever give up! 😀

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  11. Aimee Hidrogo on September 6, 2018 at 11:18 pm

    What are ways I can do to help my kids at work that have down-syndrome to do better in school, home, life?

  12. Laurie P. on November 26, 2018 at 9:38 am

    I had worked in the Special Needs field for numerous years. Many of which were working with adults in a work environment. We’ve found that it is very important for children with special needs to learn daily living skills. Some of our clients have attended programs that teach living skills throughout their younger years, but we continue to incorporate such programs during their work day. As adults we focus more on teaching skills to develop more independent living. That said, not all K-12 districts offer independent “daily living skills” programs, so perhaps teaching skills such as telling time, tying shoes, etc., can be missed until later years, unless the skills are incorporated into their IEP’s.

    I am currently working with a 11 year old with downs, in a PCA capacity. Unfortunately, the family is having a terrible time getting this child approved for 1:1 status, and he really needs that kind of services, as he CAN be aggressive at times, with a strong history of eloping. As well, he too has several different paraprofessionals working with him throughout the school day. The family has been working with the Pacer Center, and other entities to inspire his school to provide 1:1 services to him, but it’s been quite the struggle! The family does not have a lawyer that could possibly help them through the process, so i’m wondering if anyone might have some suggestions on this issue? It would be greatly appreciated! Thank you in advance!!

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  15. Flora Mantanona on August 15, 2019 at 5:21 am

    Hello,

    I just found this and loved hearing from everyone who has posted. I know it’s an old post but I’d thought I’d give it a try. I just started as a 1:1 aide/para-educator. I am the first aide for my student and he is my first student. He has Down syndrome as well. When I started, it was a few week from graduation (from the 5th grade). I did not work with him as much as I would have like, academically, because our time was filled with end of the school year testings and prepping for graduation. Now that my student started middle school this month (school started on the 13th), the transition from going to several different classes/teachers is overwhelming. It has only been a few days of school but I am trying to find ways to get him comfortable with knowing what classes to go to, the routes to take, identifying where the classes are and their room number by using hallway signs and classroom door signs, and basically creating a new routine so he can maneuver throughout the school on his own (technically not on his own but leading me to where we need to go so I know he knows). The biggest challenge I already see is for the classes that aren’t taught by a special education teacher (he has SPED Reading, Language Arts, & Math). What are some tips, techniques, advice, anything, for classes like science, foreign language and world history/social studies? A little insight: speech is not 100% clear, reading level limited to 2-3 letter words (just from what I’ve observed for the month I first worked with him), writing on a 2nd/3rd grade level, and needs assistance with comprehending what is read. He is very bright but gets easily down when having to copy words off the board (note taking). I let him write it with me helping him break down each word by sounding out the letters but he usually gets tired and refuses so I always make sure to write everything down in my own notebook. I want him to excel and would love any and all help to know how I can get him there. Thank you in advance.

  16. Jose Milne on April 20, 2020 at 4:17 pm

    I am a TA working in a public school in Canada and came across this site while trying to find tips, suggestions for a student of mine. This COVID thing has put many of us education workers into a state of almost helplessness especially when it comes to our special needs children. reading through the comments and frustrations felt by parents and caregivers I understand but in respect to the education systems (I am sure they are very similar no matter where you are located) I agree it seems at times that it is failing children of both special needs and those that have difficulty processing, understanding, organising and those with other academic issues but from an education perspective education begins at home. We only have the children 5 -6 hours a day with recess and lunch breaks in between. It would be nice that school and home life were mirrored so that what is done at home is also done at school or visa versa. Most homes however, do not have to contend with 20 other children in the class all learning at different paces and levels. Children also affect other children’s learning for many reasons in a classroom setting. There is also only one teacher in a class of, how many students, usually more than 24 pupils and quite often 1 or maybe 2 TA’s in the class if lucky to assist all those requiring help unless you are a 1:1 TA with a student but still in a regular classroom setting. TAs are not teachers they have to rely on Resource/Special Education Teachers, classroom teachers and others such as SLP, OT, PT, etc to provide resources, support, information, supplies, programs, etc for the special ed child. Quite often there are very few of these specialists in a public school and they are shared between many other students especially in a Public School setting. It is absolutely great that we have inclusion in our schools but sometimes it is at the expense of our special needs kids as they are not getting the “specialised” class instruction and the special programs that they would if there were classrooms specialising in those kids needs. Instead children that require more specific care, teaching, etc are put in classroom with a teacher that most often does not have Special Education training, that teaches mainly to those kids that are mainstream not the lower or higher academic children. One person can’t do that, neither can one TA in a class or even the 1:1 TA with that student especially if that student has specialised needs that require other specialised training such as a Speech and Language Pathologist, Occupational Therapist or Physical Therapist. Most TAs are trained like a General Physician. We are trained for a wide scope of Special needs with emphasis on the Autism.
    I agree with one of the individuals who commented. If you go into an IEP meeting with a lawyer it will do your child more harm that good as it is showing aggression when all the school is trying to do is the Best they can with what they have funding for, specialised personnel, training, etc. I would suggest if you find your school is not providing what you want look around to see what other schools might be able to provide, check out private tutors/specialists and work with your child yourself. IT is proven that children learn best at home as this is where they feel the most loved, comfortable and accepted.

    • tanya lee on March 13, 2021 at 10:20 pm

      Children want a sense of belonging. How can you make my child with Down syndrome feel like he belongs in the class? I have been lied to about so many things in IEP meetings. So yes I am at the point that I am getting a lawyer. Maybe this person has exhausted all her resources and found out that she has been lied to, so turning to an advocate or lawyer. I see other parents in the same district bringing in lawyers to get the services/supports they need and their children deserve. I should’ve done it at the beginning instead of playing nice. It has done nothing but put my son behind. Then to accuse parents of not putting in the work to support their children. Maybe the parents need more support, have you thought about that? There is evidence based research to counter your opinion of how it is a better fit for them to go into a specialized/segregated classroom. I would suggest you look up this research to better educate yourself on inclusion.
      Here is some great information that I suggest you read to help you grow. YOUR WELCOME!!

      3. A 2012, comparative study followed 34 students with Intellectual Disabilities (ID) fully included in general education with supports with a control group of 34 students with ID in special schools. Included children made slightly more progress in literacy skills than children attending special schools. The researchers concluded that inclusive education is an appropriate educational placement for students with ID who require extensive supports in school.

      Citation:Effects of inclusion on the academic achievement and adaptive behaviour of children with intellectual disabilities. Dessemontet RS, Bless G, Morin D. J Intellect Disabil Res. 2012 Jun;56(6):579-87. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2788.2011.01497.x. Epub 2011 Nov
      4. A study looking at the outcome of 11,000 students with all types of disabilities found that more time in a general education classroom correlated to less absences from school, fewer referrals for misbehavior, and more post-secondary education and employment options.

      Citation: Wagner, M., Newman, L., Cameto, R., and Levine, P. (2006). The Academic Achievement and Functional Performance of Youth with Disabilities: A Report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2). (NCSER 2006-3000). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International
      5. A 2017, study found that 41.7% of student with learning disabilities made progress in math in general education classes compared to 34% in traditional special education settings, without the presence of nondisabled peers.

      Citation: Sharp, N. (2017). Inclusion in the early childhood classroom: What should this look like? (Master’s thesis, Northwestern College, Orange City, IA). Retrieved from http://nwcommons.nwciowa.edu/education_masters/32/
      6. A 2011, study finds that there’s nothing “special” about the four walls of a special education classroom. The research suggest that the purported rationale for self-contained special education in the literature–issues of community, distraction-free environments, specialized curriculum/instruction, and behavioral supports–were not present in the six observed self-contained settings. Implications for school leaders are discussed and the rationales for the utilization of self-contained classrooms are strongly questioned.

      Citation: Does Self-Contained Special Education Deliver on Its Promises? A Critical Inquiry into Research and Practice. Causton-Theoharis, Julie; Theoharis, George; Orsati, Fernanda; Cosier, MeghanJournal of Special Education Leadership, v24 n2 p61-78 Sep 2011.
      7. Many schools and parents make the argument that typical peers may be negatively impacted by the presence of students with disabilities. Especially those students with behavior problems. But a 2013, study found that inclusion does NOT compromise a typical students academic or social outcome. No significant difference was found in the progress of the low-, average-, or high-achieving pupils from classrooms with or without inclusion.

      Citation: The impact of including children with intellectual disability in general education classrooms on the academic achievement of their low-, average-, and high-achieving peers. Sermier Dessemontet R, Bless G. J Intellect Dev Disabil. 2013 Mar;38(1):23-30. doi: 10.3109/13668250.2012.757589. Epub 2013 Jan 28.

  17. Shannon Colclough on April 18, 2021 at 8:01 am

    Thank you for sharing this resource. I had a prek student with Down Syndrome and I have never work with this population before but learned so much during my time period at the school. She was a joy to work with.

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