Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 15: 497–525, 2002.
© 2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Literacy skills in children and adolescents with Down syndrome
Department of Communication, Speech and Hearing Sciences Program, Portland State
University, Portland, Oregon, USA
Abstract. Research has found that many children and adolescents with Down syndrome
acquire some level of reading ability. Studies to date have documented that cognition,
language, and phonological awareness contribute to variability observed in performance on
conventional literacy measures for this population, although the extent of relative contribu-
tions varies among studies. Less is known about the relationship of early literacy skills to
conventional reading, or how relationships among variables that support literacy acquisition
are similar or different from those observed in typically developing children. In this project,
cognition, language, early literacy, phonological awareness and reading skills were examined
in a group of children and adolescents with Down syndrome (aged 5;06 to 17;03) and a group
of typically developing children (aged 3;06 to 5;03) matched for nonverbal cognition. Results
revealed broad variability in performance on early literacy and reading measures in persons
with Down syndrome. Comparisons with mental age-matched children indicated differences
in the relative contribution of language and cognition to reading ability, with language being
a stronger predictor in the group with Down syndrome.
Key words: Down syndrome, Early literacy, Literacy, Phonological awareness, Reading
Research over the past several decades in persons with Down syndrome
(DS) has brought new insight into developmental issues across domains of
language and communication, social, emotional, sensory, and motor growth.
More limited research has examined literacy achievement in this population,
likely due in part to a long standing belief that children with moderate or
greater levels of mental retardation could not learn to read (Conners 1992).
From a clinical and educational standpoint, learning to read and write at even
a minimal level may be an especially critical skill for persons with cognitive
limitations, as this knowledge may broaden vocational opportunities avail-
able, as well as facilitate increased independence in community activities
and living (Miller, Leddy & Leavitt 1999). The acquisition of literacy skills
may serve to increase language and communication skills as well. Anecdotal
and observational data provide evidence of signiﬁcant growth in language
development corresponding to increased literacy skills in children with DS
(Buckley & Bird 1993). While this hypothesis remains to be empirically