What is Down Syndrome?
Down Syndrome is a genetic condition
(something you are born with) caused by the presence of an extra
chromosome. Chromosomes carry the information for all the
characteristics we inherit from our parents. This information is
carried in the form of a coded message in a chemical substance
called DNA. What causes there to be an extra chromosome is not yet
understood. The risk of having a baby with Down Syndrome does
increase with maternal age but babies with Down Syndrome are born
to families from all social and racial groups and to parents of all
About one baby in 1000 is born with Down Syndrome. People with
Down Syndrome have a range of abilities and disabilities, interests
and achievements, just like everyone else. There are some
developmental difficulties associated with Down Syndrome including
delayed motor skills, such as sitting and walking and delayed
cognitive skills (such as speech and language and short-term memory
abilities). There are also a number of associated medical problems
including increased risk of hearing and vision difficulties, heart
problems, infection and thyroid disorders.
(Information from I CAN)
Further information - Down's
Typical learning profile
- Strong visual awareness, visual learning skills.
- Ability to learn signs, symbols and words to support
- Ability to model behaviour of peers.
- Learning from practical and hands on activities.
- Speech and language delay.
- Weak short term memory.
- Sequencing difficulties.
- Difficulties with generalisation, thinking and reasoning.
- Delayed motor skills.
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Aims of inclusion
- The development of independence in
learning and behaviour.
- The development of age appropriate behaviours.
- The acquisition of new skills.
- The development of a social network of support.
- Ultimate aim – an adult who is as independent in life as
Tips for successful inclusion
- Ensure the whole school takes responsibility for maintaining a
consistent approach to inclusion.
- Ensure classroom and school rules are clear.
- Explicitly teach expectations and skills.
- Reinforce expectations and learning often, with visual
- Provide good role models for language, learning and
- Support communication and understanding.
- Make links explicit.
- Actively teach and encourage independence skills and be aware
of over-dependency on key adults.
- Foster and maintain a close working relationship with family
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- Most babies with Down Syndrome have good early non-verbal
- Speech, language and communication skills specifically and
significantly delayed relative to non-verbal abilities.
- The use of sign/gesture to communicate is also a strength; many
children find sign language a very useful bridge for the
development of spoken language.
- Some 5 year olds use 1–3 keywords together in spoken
communication and many single words.
- Understanding of vocabulary and grammar will be better than
indicated by spoken language.
- Most children will be difficult to understand and need help to
develop clear speech.
- Teenagers and adults often continue to use short, telegraphic
Children have strengths in social skills
and in developing age-appropriate social behaviour, if this is
encouraged and expected of them. However, their generally good
social understanding and empathy leads them to pick up on
non-verbal emotional cues, such as those of disapproval or anxiety,
very quickly. They may therefore be sensitive to failure and may
use behavioural strategies to avoid difficult situations.
Other children may be frustrated by a delay in expressive
communication that may lead to behaviour problems. All children
with Down Syndrome are good visual learners and will readily learn
from poor peer models as well as from positive peer models.
Strategies to support positive behaviour
Try to work out why the child is acting
as they are – is the child:
- trying to exert control over their world?
- feeling that they have insufficient personal space or
opportunity to make choices?
- monitored by a ‘Velcro’ assistant constantly, who follows them
everywhere and makes decisions for them?
- Ensure that the child’s developmental – not chronological age -
is taken into account.
- Consider the child’s level of understanding of spoken
- Distinguish 'can’t do' from 'won’t do'.
- Separate immature behaviour from ‘bad’ behaviour.
- Teach rules explicitly, with regular reminders and visual
- Use short clear instructions and clear body language.
- Explanations and complex reasoning are not appropriate.
- Give choices and time without close supervision.
- Be flexible – some strategies will work one day and not the
- Be consistent – make sure everyone responds to the behaviour in
the same way.
- Alternate periods of work and play to give the child
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Advice and support for mainstream schools
Schools with a child with Down Syndrome on
role can refer to the Learning Inclusion Team for consultation. The
referral form can be downloaded from the
Learning inclusion and social communication teams page.
Outcomes from the consultation might
- advice and support;
- sign posting to resources;
- planning and differentiation;
- tracking and target setting;
- behaviour management strategies;
- sex and relationship advice; and
- transition support.
Contacts and links
Learning Inclusion Team
Education office North
Syndrome Association - Provide information and support for
people with Down’s syndrome, their families and carers, and the
professionals who work with them.
Syndrome Education International - Website for parents and
professionals. DownsEd promotes the education and development of
children with Down's syndrome through research and
Down’s Syndrome Association - Down's
Syndrome Scotland works to improve the quality of life for everyone
with Down's syndrome. Members include people with Down's syndrome,
families and professionals. They provide information, support and
An American site support SEN; offering downloadable visual supports
and online games.
Early Support Journal – for a developmental journal specific to
the Down Syndrome profile. Suitable for pre-school, early years and
into Key Stage 1.
Heart Group - A charity offering support
and information relating to heart conditions associated with Down's
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