Early, intensive literacy intervention

Teacher and student with Down syndrome- reading lessonFor those of you who don’t know her, Sue Buckley has been studying the development of language and literacy in children with Down syndrome since 1980. She and her co-authors just published a study evaluating the effects of an early literacy intervention for children with Down syndrome. (You can find the full text of the paper here: Reading Study). The children who participated in the study received 40 minutes per day of reading instruction focusing on phonemic awareness, letter/sound relationships, sight words and vocabulary.Children who received the intervention showed significantly greater gains in literacy skills than children who did not receive the intervention. The gains were limited to skills that were taught directly (blending sounds, word reading, and vocabularly) and did not generalize to other areas (grammar, non-word reading, spelling). This study adds to the existing research base that highlights the need for direct instruction of literacy skills for children with Down syndrome. The study also underscores the need for early intervention and sufficient frequency and intensity of instruction. As the authors note: “Children who were younger, attended more intervention sessions, and had better initial receptive language skills made greater progress during the course of the intervention.”

9 thoughts on “Early, intensive literacy intervention

  1. There is such power in explicit and systematic instruction done well. All children can learn when instruction is properly sequenced and supported. We know so much today about what good readers do and the cognitive strategies that help all children translate print to speech. Thank you for you work, Dr. Whitbread! You are an inspiration to us all.

  2. This is so awesome! I am so happy for all the children who receive this instruction. My heart goes out to all the parents who pursue this for their children. It is so worthwhile and important, but not always easy to find a qualified instructor who is your area. My daughter is 21 and we are still working on this–never give up hope!

    1. Thank you for that reminder to never give up! There are many people with Down syndrome who learn to read later in life–late teens, twenties and later. A student of mine at the University of Saint Joseph is tutoring a woman with Down syndrome in her 50s in reading and she is doing incredibly well. It’s never too late to start! (Hmmm……sounds like a good title for a blog post……)

  3. Thanks so much for posting this research — and summarizing it — and including the link to the study. It is so nice to have concrete evidence to back up what we are asking for for our children in order for them to be successful.

  4. One question I had (not sure how to post a question so am doing it as a comment!):
    What do you think is a reasonable/achievable number of sight words kids (typical / kids with DS) for the end of kindergarten?.. Right now our goal is 40, but I wonder if it’s too low? too high? reasonable?

  5. It seems vital for children with Down syndrome to be screened regularly during the early years of schooling to identify any learning and reading problems. Early intervention is key to addressing any difficulty a child may have in literacy. While early screening is important for children with Down syndrome, it seems just as critical for any children with a learning disability. I am amazed at how significantly greater a child’s literacy skills can improve by simply focusing a child’s learning on phonemic awareness, letter/sound relationships, sight words and vocabulary!

  6. I believe all children have the capacity to learn to read if instruction is explicitly and directly taught in a properly sequenced way which provides support for the child. Children with Down syndrome need the same variety of teaching methods for learning to read and write as other children, with some additional methods to compensate for language, memory and handwriting delays. So it is vital for children with Down syndrome to be regularly screened to identify any learning and reading deficits that may exist. This is why early intervention is key to help in addressing any early difficulty in literacy. Thanks for the informative blog postings Dr. Whitbread, you are truly an inspiration, keep up the great work!

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