Reading success in primary school

Nicola Baxter describes her daughter Kizzy's reading success in mainstream primary school

Baxter, N. (2003) Reading success in primary school. Down Syndrome News and Update, 3(3), 88-88. doi:10.3104/dsupdate.239

Dear Professor Buckley

I wanted to say an encouraging word to parents who have found that their child with Down syndrome is not making much progress with early reading. I had read all the advice and tried to work on this with my daughter Kizzy from three-and-half onwards but she showed very little interest and made almost no progress in matching and recognising words, although she could match enthusiastically in other contexts. She was otherwise a lively and alert little girl with no medical concerns and good hearing. Seeing other parents succeed with reading with children of a similar age made me feel that I had failed her.

However, we enjoyed looking at books together from the time she was a baby and she also learnt all her letter sounds at nursery before she went to school.

The good news is that as soon as she was at school (mainstream with full-time support) she took to reading straight away, following the same scheme as the other children and learning in the same way. She surprised me by making use of phonics from an early stage as well as sight recognition to aid her reading. Now at six and eleven months she is very much enjoying reading, has started to read by herself for pleasure, and is as successful as many of her classmates. Her younger brother has just started school and she delights in helping him with 'his' reading.

Maybe I simply wasn't the best teacher for her, but I'm inclined to think that she was just not quite ready and that other activities we did together were all helping her to access reading as soon as the readiness and the right context came together.

On another matter, I understand the distress some parents feel about seeing news of 'high achievers' with Down syndrome, but I do think you are right to try to raise expectations. If my children were typically developing I'm sure I'd be the classic competitive mother. But I feel that one of the important things that my daughter (and now my adopted son) have taught me is that there is so much more to celebrate about a person than where they come on any kind of scale.

Our Young Down's Group in Norwich recently had the huge pleasure of a visit from Sarah Duffen and her father. It was wonderful to meet Sarah, to hear that she had shared the driving on the long journey, and to see her having fun with the little ones and chatting to parents. I'm sure I wasn't the only parent there to be inspired by her and encouraged to have the highest hopes for our much loved children.

Yours sincerely,

Nicola Baxter

Norfolk, UK