Educate: {verb} – to provide with information

Although no two individuals are alike, there are certain styles of learning that those with Down syndrome benefit from. The following learning characteristics can be considered typical of most children with Down syndrome:

Visual learning style – visual processing and visual memory skills are a strength
Reading is usually a relative strength, compared to oral language
Numbers and math can be an area of difficulty
Social understanding and non-verbal communication a strength
Movement control (motor skills) can be delayed
Auditory and/or visual impairments are a risk
Speech and language delays – receptive language is usually superior to expressive language
Auditory short-term memory and auditory processing can be an area of weakness

We have found that visual learning is a necessity in the classroom. Furthermore, information should be broken into smaller pieces as working memory can be a challenge. Speech is another area of difficulty for individuals with Down syndrome. Socialization with typical peers helps greatly in addressing speech issues. Because people with Down syndrome are such strong visual learners, they benefit from positive peer modeling.

Peer support is a strategy that involves placing students in pairs or in small groups to participate in learning activities that support academic instruction and social skills. This instructional approach does not require additional staff or extra funding. It is a research-based methodology that yields positive results related to student achievement and a sense of “belonging” over the course of time.  Peer supports provide teachers with a learning tool to enhance instruction for students with and without disabilities.

Inclusive environments embrace differentiated instruction. Differentiation means tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. Whether teachers differentiate content, process, products, or the learning environment, the use of ongoing assessment and flexible grouping makes this a successful approach to instruction. This is a powerful tool in any learning environment as all students learn differently.

Howard Gardner of Harvard has identified seven distinct intelligences. According to this theory, “we are all able to know the world through language, logical-mathematical analysis, spatial representation, musical thinking, the use of the body to solve problems or to make things, an understanding of other individuals, and an understanding of ourselves. Where individuals differ is in the strength of these intelligences – the so-called profile of intelligences -and in the ways in which such intelligences are invoked and combined to carry out different tasks, solve diverse problems, and progress in various domains.” (

Visual-Spatial – think in terms of physical space, as do architects and sailors. Very aware of their environments. They like to draw, do jigsaw puzzles, read maps, daydream. They can be taught through drawings, verbal and physical imagery. Tools include models, graphics, charts, photographs, drawings, 3-D modeling, video, videoconferencing, television, multimedia, texts with pictures/charts/graphs.

Bodily-kinesthetic – use the body effectively, like a dancer or a surgeon. Keen sense of body awareness. They like movement, making things, touching. They communicate well through body language and be taught through physical activity, hands-on learning, acting out, role playing. Tools include equipment and real objects.

Musical – show sensitivity to rhythm and sound. They love music, but they are also sensitive to sounds in their environments. They may study better with music in the background. They can be taught by turning lessons into lyrics, speaking rhythmically, tapping out time. Tools include musical instruments, music, radio, stereo, CD-ROM, multimedia.

Interpersonal – understanding, interacting with others. These students learn through interaction. They have many friends, empathy for others, street smarts. They can be taught through group activities, seminars, dialogues. Tools include the telephone, audio conferencing, time and attention from the instructor, video conferencing, writing, computer conferencing, E-mail.

Intrapersonal – understanding one’s own interests, goals. These learners tend to shy away from others. They’re in tune with their inner feelings; they have wisdom, intuition and motivation, as well as a strong will, confidence and opinions. They can be taught through independent study and introspection. Tools include books, creative materials, diaries, privacy and time. They are the most independent of the learners.

Linguistic – using words effectively. These learners have highly developed auditory skills and often think in words. They like reading, playing word games, making up poetry or stories. They can be taught by encouraging them to say and see words, read books together. Tools include computers, games, multimedia, books, tape recorders, and lecture.

Logical-Mathematical – reasoning, calculating. Think conceptually, abstractly and are able to see and explore patterns and relationships. They like to experiment, solve puzzles, ask cosmic questions. They can be taught through logic games, investigations, mysteries. They need to learn and form concepts before they can deal with details.

There are many different ways to differentiate instruction. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences.  It is the power tool that helps teachers in this process.  Check out a brief here:  UDL at a Glance.

Children with disabilities should have the opportunity to learn the same rich curriculum that their typically developing peers are learning.  Accommodations and modifications should be in place to ensure success. If a student is receiving special education services, their instruction within the general education setting should be specially designed.  Specially Designed Instruction is the unique set of supports provided to an individual student based on his or her learning needs to remove barriers that result from the student’s disability. The supports are reflected in the student’s Individual Educational Plan (IEP) and are infused throughout the student’s learning experiences and environments as described in the IEP.


Down Syndrome Education International – DSE transforms the lives of young people with Down syndrome by improving understanding of their learning needs and by helping families and professionals to provide effective support, early intervention and education.

Inclusive Schooling – Inclusive Schooling is an engaging community for educators, administrators and parents who seek to create more inclusive schools.

National Center on Universal Design for Learning – Universal Design for Learning is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.  UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone – not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs. – A website dedicated to promoting inclusive schooling and exploring positive ways of supporting students with disabilities.

SWIFT – SWIFT is a national K-8 technical assistance center that builds school capacity to provide academic and behavioral support to improve outcomes for all students through equity-based inclusion.