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Phonics Approach for child with Downs?

downs syndrome phonics reading

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#1 Julie in GA

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Posted 08 October 2016 - 02:55 PM

I have an 8yo daughter with Downs Syndrome who does not read yet. Most of what I have read, including information published by national organizations says to teach using sight words and pictures on flashcards. I have been trying to use a phonics approach, but things are going very slowly. She knows most of her letters and can copy the vowel sounds I make, but isn't very interested. She also shows little interest in drawing and writing. What she loves is listening to music, watching DVDs and reciting/singing the portions she has memorized. 


Anyway, my primary question is:  Has anyone successfully used a phonics-based approach to teach a child with Downs Syndrome to read?  If not, what would you recommend?


Thanks so much!


Julie Shields

Douglasville, GA

#2 Jean in Newcastle

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Posted 08 October 2016 - 04:19 PM

There is a big range in what children with Down's syndrome can accomplish.  My nephew can read simple phonetic books (like Bob books) but nothing beyond that.  I had a student who could read at a fourth grade level.  So, yes, some children with Down's syndrome can learn with a phonetic approach but not all will.  There are some phonics songs and programs like this one:  http://www.actionfactor.com/. Do you think that might appeal to her?  (Note:  I have not used this program but am just using as an example of something that combines music and phonics.)

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#3 maize



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Posted 08 October 2016 - 05:36 PM

A friend of mine was quite successful in teaching her son with sight words; I don't think he ever became a really fluent reader but he could read simple children's books.

(past tense only because we moved away and I haven't kept up on his progress)

Edited by maize, 08 October 2016 - 05:37 PM.

#4 Julie in GA

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Posted 08 October 2016 - 08:19 PM

Both of these responses were very helpful. I have been under the impression that children with Downs can typically learn to read just as well as other children, and are usually avid readers when they get older. However, I recently met a woman whose son is featured on "Joni & Friends" for his pottery business. She told me that he never was able to learn to read or count. He is now in his twenties and still can't read, but enjoys making pottery and finds a sense of vocation that way. I'm learning that I just need to work with Maggie and not compare her too much to others with Downs.  Thank you!


Jean -- I'll take a look at the link you posted.  I used Sing, Spell, Read and Write with my firstborn, and was thinking that program might be fun for Maggie.  

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#5 Daria


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Posted 08 October 2016 - 10:39 PM

I'm a special ed teacher.  Right now, I work with 7 middle school and high school students with Down syndrome, and I've worked with others in the past. 


People with Down syndrome can absolutely learn how to read and write, and can use those skills for a variety of purposes, including reading for pleasure.  However the process of getting there can take longer.  I've certainly known kids with Ds who read "on time" as kindergarteners or first graders, as well as kids who really "got" reading for the first time in High School.  Whenever it comes, and however far they get, students with Ds benefit from high quality reading instruction.


Using the kind of phonics first, or phonics heavy curriculum that is often suggested here (e.g. Barton, Wilson, OG) can be challenging for kids with Ds for a few reasons, in my experience.  Weak oral motor tone may make it hard for students to make precise sounds and blend those sounds into words.  Delays in language can make it hard for students to understand the conditional language in spelling rules, and poor working memory can also make it hard form the to use "rules" for decoding and encoding.  Finally, kids with Ds may get to early elementary school age without a solid understanding of concepts of print, and may need direct instruction in that, something that can be missing from some phonics heavy programs.


In my experience, I've had better luck with programs that do away with rules and letter by letter sounding out, and instead work on students' ability to notice patterns across words, and make connections.  Phonographix, and systematic sequential phonics are two programs where I've had a lot of success, especially when combined with work on high frequency sight words, lots of opportunities to work on language in meaningful context, and opportunities to apply phonics skills in context through invented spelling and work with predictable texts.  


I certainly wouldn't give up on phonics for a kid with Ds, but I would think about choosing a phonics program carefully, and combining it with other experiences into a more balanced program. 

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#6 samba


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Posted 09 October 2016 - 07:25 AM

My son is 15 with DS. He absolutely learned to read via phonics. I started with sight words and was unhappy with how he was progressing. I wasn't willing to wait and see if it would click so I just started using Dd's phonogram cards from Spell to Write and Read. He caught on right away (I think he was 5). We gradually moved on to All About Spelling (same card idea but I tweaked the program to fit our needs) and ABCeDarian (very slow and methodical, highly recommend...and author Michael Bend is very responsive with help).  His reading continued to progress until a couple of years ago when I feel like he hit a plateau, struggling with multisyllable words. Discovered Rewards Intermediate last year and he's working through that now. We don't do spelling but he is a decent speller, I believe, because of his grasp of those early phonograms. 


My ds also lagged in his interest in drawing and writing. We just focused on the flashcards and reading for a long time. Now he loves to draw. I can't say he loves to write but he certainly is able to.


I'm struggling to remember the name of the readers we used early on...not Bob books. Ds never liked those. I'll do a little digging and come back with the details. Ottakee (fellow special needs mom on the boards here) always recommends them.




PS. I remember when your dd was born!

Edited by samba, 09 October 2016 - 07:29 AM.

#7 Lecka


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Posted 09 October 2016 - 07:35 AM

I See Sam.  http://www.3rsplus.com/index.htm  I think this is the link with the free downloads. 



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#8 samba


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Posted 09 October 2016 - 07:40 AM

I See Sam.  http://www.3rsplus.com/index.htm  I think this is the link with the free downloads. 


This is the one I was talking about!

#9 Ottakee


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Posted 09 October 2016 - 11:50 AM

I totally agree with the I See Sam books linked above. Mine do not have DS but have IQs in that range and learned to read with these books.

I am a special education teacher (subbing now so I seeany different kids) and I have some students with DS that are non verbal, just learning to walk at 5, etc and others that are in 6th grade reading at a solid 4th grade level (or above). There is a huge range.

My one daughter now 21 took WEEKS to read the first I see Sam book. Yep, weeks to get through book 1 with just 3 words. As weird as it sounds, the harder the books got, the faster she made progress. She can now read at a solid 4th grade level so is very functional and reads some for pleasure and her Q is mod 50s.
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#10 coastalfam


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Posted 09 October 2016 - 12:14 PM

I will just tell you our experience with both types of programs. My son, age 10, was in the school system for years. They were doing the phonics approach. One teacher was able to make a little headway with this approach, but as soon as he moved on to a new teacher the next year, even though we practiced over the summer, all that information vanished for him. So, at age 10 we pulled him from the school and enrolled in a homeschool charter. That charter happened to have a very expensive sight reading program called PCI on hand that we took home and started using. He immediately was able to start reading sight words. He has trouble with words that are not nouns, so we have taken the program slowly, adding in our own high interest words, and making our own books along with those the program has. He learns high interest sight words extremely quickly. We started homeschooling in April last year, we practiced during the summer, but did not add many new words as our living situation was in limbo and all our stuff was packed. So, even with a break from learning new material over the summer, he has a sight word vocabulary of about 25 words. That is a huge deal! He is able to read books we make for him, and books that came with the program we are using from our charter. This year, the resource teacher with the charter happens to be the teacher who was able to get him using phonics to sound out cvc words, so we decided to start introducing that slowly. So far, he has learned 4 phonograms, and is abel to read the first B.O.B. book. He is much more intuitive about what in the heck is going on with sounding out sounds to make a word than he was a couple years ago, so time and maturity have helped. In the book "Teaching Reading to Children with Down Syndrome", the author supports doing what works for the child. If phonics are not working, do sight words. If phonics becomes appropriate, add that in. So, in a nut shell, that is what we are doing. Lots of trial and error and customizing our approach to give my son maximum success. I want him to want to work hard, so right now, we are not making things challenging, we are making them exciting. If that means half his sight words are the names of superheroes and Pokemon, that's okay. He is having success. I tried to add in a couple new phonics last week. That was too many, so I will back up and add in one, and we have started to combine our phonics words with sight words in our books. It is SLOW going, but it is pretty special that we are finally getting somewhere. :) 

#11 samba


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Posted 09 October 2016 - 01:32 PM

Came back to give some titles for readers we've used:


I See Sam or 3Rs (mentioned above)


Rod and Staff "Say it again" series (I still have these and I'd be happy to send them to you if you'd like)


Step into Reading First Steps (I have set 2 that I could send)


Horizon readers (not Horizons the school program) titles include "Fun in the Sun" "Scamp and Tramp" "Soft and White" and others; I think there were five in the set. I found mine years ago in a thrift store but I see that Memoria press has included these three titles in their Kindergarten Phonics set. These were nice because there are so many stories in each book.


Not reading books but easy activity books that supported fine motor skill development (son was pencil/scissor phobic for a long time!):


Kumon My First Book of Tracing, Cutting, Folding, Book of Easy Mazes


Rod and Staff "Early Learning Workbooks" (set of 5-6; works on tracing, circling, left/right, etc)


As I said, I used All About Spelling's phonogram cards (the cues are on the back of each card) but you could easily make your own or buy only the cards. I also checked out anything I could find in our library system (Reading Reflex, Phonics Pathways, etc.)


My son definitely picked up sight words along the way but it came after the phonics had started. I have not tested him recently but he is probably at least 4th grade reading level. He loved Henry and Mudge, Mr. Putter and Tabby, Poppleton, etc. Now can read Charlotte's Web, Shiloh and others and only make errors on the less common words. He loves to read. He also loves listening to audiobooks (classics and others). 

#12 ElizabethB


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Posted 10 October 2016 - 05:54 PM

I See Sam is a good fun choice.  Before you start, you may need to be super incremental with the blending, and I would use my reference vowel and consonant charts for all reading, they also have some cards for making words.


Blending Page with explanations:








Some fun YouTube videos to watch with her that show blending and phonics with these cards:




She may also be able to do Read, Write, Type once she has blending down pat.  It is very forgiving on wrong answers.  It says it has special features for students for LDs.




#13 Silver Brook

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Posted 17 October 2016 - 09:01 PM

I do not have any experience with this, but back when i was researching, I thought this approach looked interesting.http://www.ballstickbird.com/

I can't locate much right now, but I have a vague memory of reading some success with kiddos with Downs. It seems like something that would boost interest. I don't know if it would be helpful, but wanted to throw it out there. HTH

Edited by Silver Brook, 17 October 2016 - 09:09 PM.

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