Our #Education21 campaign highlights how educational research has helped us to better understand the needs of young people with Down syndrome and how it is improving outcomes for many thousands of children today. Find out more...

#3. Reading can be a strength and support learning and language

Educational research has found that reading can be a relative strength for children with Down syndrome. Reading opens up new opportunities for learning and language development.

What educational research has shown

Reading research began in the 1980's when it was widely believed that learning to read was too difficult for anyone with Down syndrome.[1]

Today, thanks to education research, we now know that reading can be a strength and that children with Down syndrome often read better than would be expected for their language and mental age levels.

Many children with Down syndrome can begin to learn to read in their preschool years. As they progress, the children tend to have an uneven reading profile with reading comprehension and the ability to use phonics lagging behind reading accuracy.[2]

In addition to exploring how reading develops, researchers have also explored the effects of reading on aspects of language and shown that reading comprehension can be stronger than listening comprehension[3] and that printed words can help children with Down syndrome learn spoken words.[4]

While current research continues to study the reading profiles and what predicts reading abilities, researchers are also developing and evaluating effective approaches to teaching reading.[5, 6]

How this is helping

The early reading studies began to change educators' beliefs about what children with Down syndrome might achieve, and now many children are taught to read.

Independent reading ability is not the only beneficial outcome. Most educators now recognise the value of recording learning in the classroom in books with pictures and print as this can aid recall of the content when read to the child who is not able to read independently.

Many educators and speech and language therapists use the written word to help children with Down syndrome to learn new words and sentences and to support their spoken language development.

Unanswered questions

Future research is needed to explore:


  1. Buckley, S.J. (1985). Attaining basic educational skills: reading, writing and number. In D. Lane & B. Stratford (Eds.), Current Approaches to Down's Syndrome. (pp. 315-343) Eastbourne: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
  2. Burgoyne, K., Baxter, R. & Buckley, S.J. (2013). Supporting the literacy skills of children with Down syndrome. Chapter in R. Faragher and B. Clarke (Eds.), Educating Learners with Down Syndrome. (pp 195-220) Routledge Education.
  3. Roch, M., Florit, E. & Levorato, C. (2011) Follow-up study on reading comprehension in Down's syndrome: The role of reading skills and listening comprehension. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders 46, 231-242
  4. Mengoni, S.E., Nash, H. & Hulme, C. (2013) The benefit of orthographic support for oral vocabulary learning in children with Down syndrome. Journal of Child Language 40, 221-243
  5. Burgoyne, K., Duff, F.J., Clarke, P.J., Snowling, M.J., Buckley, S.J., Hulme, C. (2012) Efficacy of a reading and language intervention for children with Down syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 53, 1044-1053. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2012.02557.x
  6. Burgoyne, K., Duff, F.J., Snowling, M., Buckley, S.J & Hulme, C. (2013). Training phoneme blending skills in children with Down syndrome. Child Language Teaching and Therapy. 29 (3 )273-290