Literacy and Children with Down Syndrome: Strategies for Home

As a speech language pathologist that works with children and adults with Down Syndrome, I wanted to take a look at some research about how literacy is affected in this population. I also wanted to find some valuable and evidenced based information to share with the families that I work with to help their children develop more advanced literacy skills. I found an interesting article titled The Development of literacy skills with Down Syndrome: Implications for Intervention (April, 2008) by Margaret J Snowling, Hannah N Nash and Lisa M Henderson. To access the full article, click here. In this study, the authors outlined the research with regards to literacy and Down Syndrome, the variations in literacy, and different variations. Below is some important points that I found important in this article:

Phonological Awareness: “It has been suggested that as compared to typically developing children, the development of phonological awareness follows a different path in children with Downs Syndrome. Gombert found that a group of French children with Down syndrome were poorer on tasks of rhyme oddity, rhyme judgement and phoneme syntheses than tasks tapping more explicit awareness of phonemes such as phoneme counting, phoneme spelling and phoneme deletion”. They also found that “children with Down Syndrome could identify initial sounds in words but found identifying words rhymes difficult” (Snowling, Nash, Henderson, 2008). For a detailed summary of phonological awareness and important terms, take a look at this article here. 

Reading Skills: According to the authors, Snowling, Nash and Henderson (2008) in this study, “Reading skills are often an area of relative strength of individuals with Down Syndrome”. Other studies have suggested that “word identification skills develop relatively well in Down Syndrome”. The authors also discussed the relationship of receptive language skills, understanding of grammar and auditory memory to be better predictors of a child’s reading abilities.

Reading Comprehension: According to the authors Snowling, Nash and Henderson (2008), “Reading comprehension appears to lag behind accuracy in Down Syndrome because it is limited by language skills”.




Now that we know some of the challenges facing children with Down Syndrome and literacy, here are some tips that I have created to work on at home:

  1. Since individuals with Down Syndrome have strengths in their visual skills, use this to their benefit by providing visuals with a literacy activityWork on weaker phonological skills such as rhyming! Read such books as Dr. Seuss that emphasize rhyming and make the experience motivating and engaging. For example, the words “hat” and “bat” provide pictures with the words to help a child see the word and the picture. This exercise can help build more awareness of rhyming words and build auditory skills.
  2. Provide a literacy learning environment within the home. One of the great predictors of literacy success starts at home and having a enriched learning environment can help a child immensely with a love of reading.
  3. Expand on receptive language! From the articles I read, one of the great predictors of success with literacy depends on a child’s receptive language. Make joint reading a language opportunity for expanding vocabulary. As you are reading a story, use print referencing skills to build awareness of print, sight words and expanding of vocabulary. Do you want to learn more about vocabulary growth during reading? Check out this article here.
  4. Work on improving grammar and syntax using both visual and auditory models. One of the ways to work on grammar and syntax is by modeling and using a visual language system to help create and combine words into a sentence. I often do this type of exercise with a tool such as a communication app because it provides a wonderful visual in building sentences. As a speech language pathologist who specializes in Augmentative and Alternative Communication, I often use these visual systems to help build grammar and syntax with individuals with complex communication needs. This type of visual system can help aid a child with Down Syndrome who struggles with syntax and grammar because it makes a language system visual. Often the parts of speech are also color coded which helps a child learn parts of speech.
  5. Target reading comprehension by scaffolding, asking “wh” questions and encouraging discussion throughout reading. Use manipulatives and visual cues to help aid in reading comprehension. Additionally, when reading longer books, stop often to recap the story and check comprehension. Repeated readings can also help improve comprehension of the story. To learn more about repeated readings, click here.

To learn more about reading interventions for children with Down Syndrome, check out this research article by Kelly Burgoyne here.

To learn more about Down Syndrome Education International, click here.


Snowling, Margaret, Hannah N. Nash, and Lisa M. Henderson. “The Development of Literacy Skills in Children with Down Syndrome: Implications for Intervention.” Down Syndrome Online – Reliable, Up-to-date Information about Down Syndrome. Down Syndrome Education International, Apr. 2008. Web. 16 Jan. 2017.

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