Education & the IEP

In this section, you will find 2 types of resources:

  • Helpful educational tools and resources for children with Down syndrome
  • Information about special education rights and IEPs

Down syndrome Education International


Educational Supports

Special Reads for Special Needs is a program developed by educator and parent Natalie Hale. It is a very successful program for teaching children with Down syndrome how to read.

Children with Down syndrome, thanks to their strong visual processing skills, are very capable of learning how to read and enjoy reading. Unfortunately, not all children with Down syndrome are successfully taught how to read within their school program. It is very important for parents to support their children's reading skills.

Learn more on the Special Reads from Special Needs website

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The Individualized Education Plan

The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a very important and powerful document that outlines a child's goals and services. It provides many legal protections for a student with specialized educational needs. Learning about the IEP process, including your child's rights, is very important.

Check out these resources to prepare for your child's IEP meeting

How Do Children with Down Syndrome Learn?

From: Supporting the Student with Down Syndrome in Your Classroom:

As with all children, there is a wide range of abilities, behavior and physical development among children with Down syndrome. However, as a general rule, most children with Down syndrome learn best with a multi-sensory based program.

Teaching strategies for the student with Down syndrome

 Visual Learners: pair pictures with spoken word, demonstrate, model, visual cues, kinesthetic reinforcement, color coded, highlighted.

 Auditory memory and auditory processing weak: ALWAYS allow adequate response time.

 Fewer short-term memory channels: Break down directions into smaller steps, repetition. Repeat, repeat, repeat, small chunks of information.

 Literal learners: best to avoid slang, multiple meaning terms.

 Learns: at slower rate than typical peers

Curriculum Adaptation

Simplify, Supplement, Alter

There is no magic formula for adapting your classroom curriculum for your students with Down syndrome. Each student’s needs are unique. The process is simple, but it does require that all team members work collaboratively.

Subtle adaptations - Subtle accommodations to daily work will assist your student without drawing attention to the adaptation. For instance, textbooks with the same cover but different contents will minimize the variation.

Same timetable/same subject - Materials and methods may vary but if all students work on the same subject matter at the same time a student’s sense of competence will increase.

Allow adequate response time. Some students need time to process your question. Be patient.

Visual accommodations work best for your students with Down syndrome. Visual schedules may help compensate for memory difficulties.


Gross Motor Skills

Desk height - It is important that all children have a comfortable workspace. It is especially important for a child with low muscle tone because proper support will help to alleviate fatigue.

Foot Support - Check to see that your student’s feet are not dangling from his chair but rather resting flat on the floor. Proper foot stability will not only lessen fatigue but will also provide trunk support.

Hypotonia- Low muscle tone may affect some body parts more than others. A student with Down syndrome may have difficulty sitting for an extended time on a floor without proper back support. Provide something to lean against. “W” sitting should be discouraged as it stresses joints in the knees and hips. Please consult with your student’s Physical Therapist for suggestions on increasing gross motor skill development.


Fine Motor Skills

Several factors may affect the fine motor skill development of children with Down syndrome.

Low muscle tone, or hypotonia

Shortened limbs - hands may be 10 to 30% shorter

Ligament or joint instability T

These factors may contribute to difficulty with small muscle activities such as handwriting. In addition, children with Down syndrome may have wrist bones that develop more slowly, decreased skin sensation or a delay in the maturation of the palmar reflex. Please consult with your student’s Occupational Therapist for suggestions on developing these skills


A Word About Hugs

As with all children, it is also important to help children with Down syndrome learn appropriate social boundaries. Although hugging your teacher is encouraged in the early grades, children need to learn when this has become inappropriate and how to replace hugging with more appropriate social gestures. A hand shake, pat on the back, high 5, thumbs up sign, etc are all great replacements to hugging. Consult your student’s Occupational Therapist for sensory diet needs

Doctor, this is a lot to remember! Is there anyone who can assist me in this process?

Yes! there are wonderful community organizations that provide training and support

  • DREDF trains and educate people with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities about their rights under state and federal disability rights laws so they can use the laws as tools to challenge exclusion and discrimination, and advocate effectively for full participation in the lives of their communities.
  • They also educate lawyers, service providers, government officials, and many others about disability civil rights laws and policies
  • For over two decades they have operated a disability rights legal clinic in collaboration with law schools in the San Francisco Bay Area including Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley.

  • DREDF represents clients in leading edge disability rights litigation
  • They serve as co–counsel and prepare amicus curiae briefs on behalf of parties that include disability community representatives and members of Congress in disability rights cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court
  • They advocate for the legal rights of individuals and families

  • DREDF staff design and carry out strategies that strengthen public policy and that lead to the enactment of federal and state laws protecting and advancing civil rights for people with disabilities such as the Handicapped Children’s Protection Act, the Civil Rights Restoration Act, the landmark 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, and the IDEA Amendments Act.


Disability Rights Education Defense Fund (DREDF)

The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), founded in 1979, is a leading national civil rights law and policy center directed by individuals with disabilities and parents who have children with disabilities.

Their Mission

To advance the civil and human rights of people with disabilities through legal advocacy, training, education, and public policy and legislative development.

Their Vision

A just world where all people, with and without disabilities, live full and independent lives free of discrimination.

DREDF works with the core principles of equality of opportunity, disability accommodation, accessibility, and inclusion by employing the following strategies:


DREDF offers FREE trainings for parents and professionals

DREDF also has sample letters that can help you draft your written communications with your child's school districts

Dr Preeya Desai, in collaboration with the Berkeley Media Studies Group, developed these videos to outline the IEP process. Check them out! They are 3-5 minutes each