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...

#6. Inclusive education can provide better language and academic outcomes

In some countries, children with Down syndrome are educated in mainstream, or regular, classrooms alongside their non-disabled peers. Educational research suggests that there are distinct advantages to inclusive education.

What educational research has shown

Since the 1980's an increasing number of children with Down syndrome are being educated in regular or mainstream classrooms with non-disabled peers. A number of educational research studies have considered the benefits or disadvantages of being in a mainstream compared with a special education classroom.

Gert de Graaf and colleagues published a systematic review of the studies conducted from 1970-2010 in a number of countries[1] and conclude that results show that children educated in mainstream classrooms develop better language and academic skills even after selective placement is taken into account. There is no difference in outcomes for self-help skills possibly because many of these are learned and practiced at home. For social networks, behavior and social competence there are few differences or small advantages to mainstream placements. The children are well accepted by their peers but less often seen as 'best friends' and support for friendships in and outside school is recommended.

The de Graaf team have conducted the most comprehensive investigations of factors influencing academic outcomes for children in mainstream placements in the Netherlands.[2] They reported that the children receive more teaching time focused on academics in mainstream but progress was also influenced by the child's cognitive abilities, parent educational level and the time parents spent teaching their child academics at home. In follow up work this group have reported that children with IQs of 35-50 in mainstream placements make more academic progress than children with IQs above 50 in special schools.[3] Further they report that in the first years of primary/elementary school reading development directly benefits from mainstream placement.[4] This findings are supported by the work of DSEI researchers.[5, 6]

How this is helping

The evidence of the benefits of mainstream inclusive education has led to an increase in mainstream placements for children with Down syndrome in preschool and from the start of full-time education in some countries.

Unanswered questions

Future research is needed to:


  1. de Graaf, G., van Hove, G. & Haveman, M. (2012) Effects of regular versus special school placement on students with Down syndrome: a systematic review of studies. In A. van den Bosch & E Dubois (Eds.) New Developments in Down Syndrome Research. Nova Science Publishers. https://www.downsyndroom.nl/reviewinclusive
  2. de Graaf, G, van Hove, G. & Haveman, M. (2013) More academics in regular schools? The effect of regular versus special school placement on academic skills in Dutch primary school students with Down syndrome. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research. 57, 23-38
  3. de Graaf, G. & de Graaf, E. (2012) Development of self-help, language and academic skills in Down syndrome. Paper presented at 11th World Down Syndrome Congress, Cape Town, South Africa.
  4. de Graaf, G., van Hove, G. & Haveman, M. (2012) Learning to read in regular and special schools: a longitudinal study of students with Down syndrome. Paper presented at 11th World Down Syndrome Congress, Cape Town, South Africa.
  5. 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. https://library.down-syndrome.org/reports/295/
  6. Burgoyne, Duff, Clarke, Snowling, Buckley, Hulme (2012) Efficacy of a reading and language intervention for children with Down syndrome: an RCT. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 53, 1044-1053. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.14697610.2012.02557.x/full.