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...

#5. Not global delay, but a profile of strengths and weaknesses

Children with Down syndrome do not experience global delay: research has found that different aspects of their development are affected differently by the condition. However, does this mean these outcomes are fixed?

What educational research has shown

Educational research has shown that although the development of children with Down syndrome is usually delayed (relative to other children of the same age), not all areas of development are delayed to the same extent.

In the last two #Education21 posts we have described educational research showing that the children's spoken language development and verbal short term memory development are more delayed than their non-verbal mental abilities. Over time, these particular challenges lead to language and literacy progress falling behind the children's social development and practical independence. Studies suggest that this 'profile' of relative strengths in social and practical development and greater difficulties with language and literacy is common among young people with Down syndrome from preschool and through to teenage years.[1 - 3]

Are these outcomes the unavoidable consequence of an additional copy of chromosome 21? Or, can they be changed with better therapies, intervention and support?

Development takes place over time as children interact with, and learn from the world around them - it is not fixed at birth. We do not know what therapies, learning opportunities and support the children in these studies received. One study has suggested that this particular profile need not be inevitable and that it can changed by teenage if these weaknesses are addressed from the early years and in school.[3] Language and literacy development can be brought in line with social development and practical independence, with adapted teaching and inclusion in mainstream school environments. In this study the expected uneven profile was seen clearly in the group not receiving these interventions.[3, 4]

How this is helping

As the research has shown these specific weaknesses are a risk for children with Down syndrome, practitioners have focused on interventions for these difficulties from the early years.

Speech and language therapy has become a priority from infancy using visual supports such as pictures, signs, print and software to compensate for verbal short term memory weaknesses.

Teachers now use visual supports and adapt the way teaching, learning and assessments are carried out in schools. Teachers are also focusing on speech and language development as a priority in the curriculum. Games and activities are being used to try improve memory development.

More children with Down syndrome are being educated in mainstream schools.

Unanswered questions

Future research is needed to:


  1. Fidler DJ, Hepburn S, Rogers S. (2006) Early learning and adaptive behavior in toddlers with Down syndrome: Evidence for an emerging behavioral phenotype? Down Syndrome Research and Practice. 9(3), 37-44. doi:10.3104/reports.297
  2. Dykens EM, Hodapp RM, Evans DW. (2006) Profiles and development of adaptive behavior in children with Down syndrome. Down Syndrome Research and Practice. 9(3) 45-50. doi:10.3104/reprints.293
  3. Buckley SJ, Bird G, Sacks B, Archer T. (2006) A comparison of mainstream and special education for teenagers with Down syndrome: Implications for parents and teachers. Down Syndrome Research and Practice. 9(3) 54-67. doi:10.3104/reports.295
  4. Buckley SJ, Bird G, Sacks B. (2006) Evidence that we can change the profile from a study of inclusive education. Down Syndrome Research and Practice. 9(3) 51-53.