Down Syndrome South Africa



When a child with Down syndrome reaches school going age parents are faced with many choices.  The decisions taken are often made due to a lack of information or based on myths and mistruths regarding the education of children with Down syndrome.

Children with Down syndrome can and do learn and can be taught!!!

They also learn throughout their lifetime just like all of us providing that they are given the opportunity!

Aiming High

If parents aim to include their child in the mainstreams of life they need to start working on certain issues long before school going age:

• Discipline your child at all times with the same expectations as for any child;
• Each your child how to behave and interact with others in a socially acceptable way;
• Teach your child how to react and respond appropriately to the environment, eg greeting, asking for help;
• Teach your child to take turns, share and give and take;
• Teach your child to work independently and co-operatively
• Teach your child self help skill and practical skills;
• Raise awareness regarding Down syndrome in your community (church, school, shopping area) talk to people about your child;
• Enrol you child in an inclusive pre school setting;
• Do not be too sensitive about rejection and negative attitudes, educate those that are about your child and his/her disability;

Time to go to school
When your child is old enough to go to school:
• Visit the new school well in advance;
• Arrange for your child to meet the teacher;
• Develop a familiarity with the school’s layout (map of the school);
• Get acquainted with the routine and the rules of the school;
• Get a home school communication books in place;
• Set up regular meeting (quarterly) between role players to discuss planning and progress;
• Be involved in the activities of the school;
• Be prepared to assist the teacher in additional exercises at home;

The Curriculum
Remember the child in not necessarily developmentally delayed in his whole development;
Therefore there is no need for a diluted curriculum in all learning style;

Factors influencing learning:
Certain factors influencing learning are typical of many children with Down syndrome

Strengths that facilitate learning;
Strong visual awareness and visual learning skills are;
Learn by using the written word
Modelling behaviour and attitudes
Learning by way of practical material and hands-on activities

Weaknesses that inhibit learning are mentioned in the table below.
The above mentioned factors (strengths and weaknesses) influence the planning and implementation of meaningful and relevant activities and programmes of work.

Why inclusion
Research has shown that:
• Children do better academically when in inclusive settings;
• Developing peers gain in understanding about disability, tolerance and support;
• Inclusion provides models for normal and age appropriate behaviour;
• Inclusion provides opportunities to develop relationships;
• Inclusive education is the key step towards inclusion in life;

Experience shows:
• One of the most important ingredients for successful inclusion is the will to make it succeed / a positive attitude;
• Most teachers have the skills to understand the individual needs of a child with Down syndrome;
• Most teachers have the skills to teach children with Down syndrome effectively and sensitively;

Specific learning profile of a child with Down syndrome:
• Child is not just developmentally delayed in his whole development;
• No need for a diluted curriculum in all learning areas;
• Learning profile goes hand in hand with a learning style;
• Certain factors influencing learning are typical of many children with Down syndrome;
• Strengths that facilitate learning;

Strong visual awareness and visual learning skill are:
• Learnt by using signing;
• Learnt by using the written word;
• Learnt by modelling behaviour and attitudes;
• Learning by way of practical material and hands-on activities
• Weaknesses that inhibit learning;


FOR USE BY EDUCATORS AND INTERESTED PERSONS  – Parents can print our this section and pass onto their child’s teachers


60 – 70% Get glasses before the age of 7.

Over 50% have hearing loss due to upper respiratory infections.
Clarity in hearing can fluctuate daily.

Due to low muscle tone and loose joints.

Caused by physical perceptual and cognitive problems.
Smaller vocabulary which leads to less general knowledge.
Receptive skills are greater than expressive skills.


Difficulty in reading and writing
Difficulty in accessing the curriculum.

Affects speech and language

Perception that child is not interested or has a poor attitude.

Restricting experience in early years

Delaying cognitive development

Difficulty in understanding instructions.

Problems in understanding language of the curriculum.

Difficult for the child to ask for help.

Weaknesses in spelling and writing.
Cognitive skills are often underestimated.


1. Place child near the front of the class.
2. Use larger print/writing
3. Use simpler and clear presentation.

1. Place pupil in from of class.
2. Speak directly to the pupil.
3. Reinforce speech with facial expressions, signs, gestures and visual back up.
4. Write new vocabulary on the board.
5. Repeat the answers of other pupils.
6. Repeat words or phrases.

1. Provide additional practice, guidance and encouragement.
2. Provide wrist and finger strengthening activities.
3. Use a wide range of multi-sensory activities and materials
4. Keep activities meaningful and enjoyable.
1. Give time to process language and respond.
2. Listen carefully – your understanding (ear) will adjust.
3. Ensure face to face and direct eye contact.
4. Use simple and familiar language.
5. Use short and simple sentences.
6. Check understanding – child to repeat the instruction.
7. Use reading to help with speech and language.
8. Emphasize key words.
9. Avoid closed questions.
10. Encourage pupil to speak aloud / read in class
11. Create opportunities for speech – send child with a message.
12. Provide additional listening activities / games.
Difficulty in responding to the spoken word.

Difficulty in learning from a situation relying only on auditory skills.

Fund it difficult in following and remembering verbal instructions.

1. Limit amount of verbal instructions.
2. Allow time for child to process and respond.
3. Repeat instructions to the class individually to the child.
4. Try to limit lengthy instructions and discussions.
5. Plan for visual translation or alternative activity.
Child is easily distracted.

One-to-one support has a high intensity and the child tries more easily than an unsupported child.

1. Short focused and clearly defined tasks.
2. Vary level of demand from task to task.
3. Vary level of support.
4. Use peers to keep pupil on task.
5. At carpet times place the child near the teachers (not on the teachers lap).
6. Give the child a square carpet to encourage to sit in one place.
7. Working on computers can sometimes sustain child’s attention.
8. Create an activity box for times when the child need a change of activity or time out

Difficulty to transfer skills from one situation to another.

Difficulty to understand abstract concepts / subjects

Difficulty in problem solving.

1. Do not assume that skills will be transferred automatically.
2. Teach new skills by using a variety of methods, materials and contexts.
3. Reinforce abstract concepts with visual and concrete materials.
4. Offer additional explanations demonstrations.
5. Encourage problem solving by using meaningful and practical every day life situations.

Pupil with Down syndrome take longer to consolidate new skills (master it)

Ability to learn and retain can fluctuate daily.

Difficulty to transfer knowledge from situation to another.

Delaying cognitive development.

Difficulty in accessing the curriculum.

1. Provide extra time and opportunities for additional repletion and reinforcement.
2. Involve parents or support teacher in repletion and reinforcement.
3. Present new skills in a variety or ways using concrete, practical and visual materials.
4. Move forward by continually check back to ensure that child retains the previously learned skills.

Influenced by impaired short term auditory memory, speech and language and delayed fine and gross motor skills.

Difficulty in sequencing words into sentence formation.

Difficulty in sequencing events / information into the correct order.

Difficulty in organising thoughts and relevant information onto paper

1. Provide visual support flash cards, key works, picture cues and sequences, sentence cues.
2. Provide alternative methods of recording
Underline correct answer
Picture card sequences
Computer with specialist
software whole word
3. Restrict writing to their own experience and understanding;
4. If copying from the board select shorter essential version for the pupil;