Training phoneme blending skills in children with Down syndrome

This project developed and evaluated an intervention to teach phoneme blending skills to children with Down syndrome, adapted to take account of their learning profile.

Many children with Down syndrome can learn to read with wide variability in eventual attainment levels but while sight word reading is usually a strength, learning to use phonic strategies to decode new words often lags behind. This small study was designed to see if a training programme designed to teach sound blending, adapted for children with Down syndrome and implemented daily by trained teaching assistants, would accelerate their progress.

The specific research questions were:

  • Can a targeted teaching programme improve the phoneme blending skills of children with DS?
  • Does the programme lead to gains in reading and spelling?
  • Do educators working with children with DS feel the programme is easy to implement, effective and worthwhile?

Ten children, aged between 6 years 11 months to 10 years 6 months at the start of the study, took part in the intervention for 10-15 minutes daily in school for 6 weeks. Before they started on the intervention, there was an 8 week baseline control period of teaching as usual. A range of reading and language measures were collected at 3 time points - before the baseline period, at the start and at the completion of the intervention.

The intervention involved 6 teaching steps and the first two provided visual supports for blending, before moving to oral blending with and without pictures, non-word reading and sentence reading. The TAs were provided with all the teaching materials needed and received training via a DVD. The full details of the intervention are included in the paper and the methods can be adapted for the different phonics programmes being used in schools.

The children made more progress during the intervention period on blending (both with and without pictures) and on word reading but with wide variation in the individual gains made. The TAs felt the intervention was easy to implement and enjoyable. The authors conclude that the study supports reading instruction for children with Down syndrome that includes phonics teaching.


Burgoyne, K., Duff, F., Snowling, M., Buckley, S. & Hulme, C. (2013). Training phoneme blending skills in children with Down syndrome. Child Language Teaching and Therapy. 29 (3) 273–290.


  • Big Lottery Fund
  • Nuffield summer student bursary
  • Down Syndrome Education International.