Down Syndrome


Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition.  It affects 1 out of every 800 to 1,000 babies.  The syndrome occurs when an individual has an extra copy of chromosome 21. 


Down syndrome is usually caused by an error in cell division called nondisjunction. The result is an embryo with three copies of chromosome 21 rather than the usual two.

It  is hereditary in approximately 1% of all cases. The other 99% are completely random. The only known factor that increases the risk is the age of the mother (over 35).


Common physical features of Down syndrome are:
  • small stature
  • flat face with a broad nose
  • large tongue
  • small ears
  • upward slanting eyes
  • A single, deep, crease across the palm of the hand
  • A deep groove between the first and second toes

Individuals with Down syndrome have increased risks for medical problems such as congenital heart defects, respiratory and hearing problems, Alzheimer’s disease, childhood leukemia, and thyroid conditions.

Children with Down syndrome develop at a slower rate and have mild to moderate cognitive delays.

C.R. attends Early Childhood Intervention classes through Anne Arundel County Public Schools. Photo used with parent permission

Teaching Strategies

Student with Down syndrome are stronger visual learners and understand more language than they can expresses.  Early intervention that builds on these strengths is critical.   Teachers can use the following strategies to promote success:

Communication: use gesturing and/or sign language, allow students to participate and show understanding non-verbally

Literacy: build sight vocabulary, read repetitive text, reading intervention which targets phonemic awareness and phonic decoding skills

Grammar:  repeat words or sentences back to the child with additional, accurate grammatical information.

Math:  Use of manipulatives and visual aids such as number lines, hundreds charts, and calculators

Assistive Technology

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, (IDEA) students with disabilities have the right to access devices and services to facilitate their participation in school activities.  These "high" and "low tech" options can be used with Down syndrome students:

  • Slanted desk or a 3 ring binder turned sideways help with lack of wrist mobility.
  • Springed scissors, pencil grips, and triangular crayons
  • Smartboard lessons provide interactive opportunities for visual and tactile learners.
  • Ipads, touch screen tablets, and keyboards allow for nonverbal responses and assist students with fine motor difficulties.

Family & Community Resources

Maryland Learning Links

There is a great deal of support available to parents with Down syndrome children.  Parents can use these sites for general information, early intervention, or medical resources.

National Down Syndrome Society 800-221-4602


Cologon, K. (2013). Debunking Myths: Reading Development in Children with Down Syndrome. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 38(3). Retrieved April 6, 2015, from ERIC

Down Syndrome. (n.d.). Retrieved April 4, 2015, from

Down Syndrome. (n.d.). Retrieved April 3, 2015, from

Faragher, R., Brady, J., Clark, B., & Gervason, A. (2008, January 1). Children with Down Syndrome Learning Mathematics: Can They Do It? Yes They Can! Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom, 10-15.

Five Ways Assistive Technology Helps Students With Down Syndrome. (n.d.). Retrieved April 6, 2015, from

FPG Child Development Institute. (2010). Promoting Language and Literacy Skills in Children with Down Syndrome. FPG Snapshot #60. Retrieved April 4, 2015, from ERIC.

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