Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 15: 527–548, 2002.
© 2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Relationships between reading, phonological skills and language
development in individuals with Down syndrome: A ﬁve year
& DEBORAH GUNN
University of Oxford, UK;
University of Bristol, UK
Abstract. This article is based on language, memory and reading information gathered for a
ﬁve year follow-up study of 30 children and adolescents with Down syndrome, aged from 10
to 24 years at the end of the study. At Time 1, 10 individuals were classiﬁed as readers but by
Time 2 this number had risen to 16. Readers signiﬁcantly outperformed non-readers on tests of
nonverbal ability, language comprehension and production, phonological memory and phon-
ological awarenesss. However, some of these differences could be accounted for by readers’
signiﬁcantly lower hearing thresholds. Phonological memory and early letter knowledge at
Time 1 were signiﬁcant predictors of reading scores for Time 2 readers, after controlling for
age, nonverbal ability and corresponding Time 1 reading scores. There was no evidence that
learning to read had a signiﬁcant impact on later language comprehension, but early reading
skills may be signiﬁcant predictors of MLU ﬁve years later, after controlling for age, nonverbal
ability and hearing.
Key words: Down syndrome, Language, Literacy, Phonological memory
Abbreviations: BPVS – British Picture Vocabulary Scale; K-ABC – Kaufmann Assessment
Battery for Children; MLU – mean length of Utterance; TROG – Test for the Reception of
Although early accounts of reading by children with Down syndrome were
limited to anecdotal reports (e.g. Duffen 1976), or case studies (e.g. Buckley
1985), there is now little doubt that literacy is within the capability of many
in this population and not just the exceptional few (Appleton 2000; Bochner,
Outhred & Pieterse 2001; Byrne, Buckley, MacDonald & Bird 1995; Byrne
1997; Fowler, Doherty & Boynton 1995; Farrell 1996; Kay-Raining Bird,
Cleave & McConnell 2000; Sheppardson 1994). Important questions remain
to be addressed. Does literacy depend on levels of language and general
cognitive abilities? What factors inﬂuence the standard of reading achieved?
Will learning to read improve spoken language production and comprehen-
sion? In this study, information on language, memory and reading gathered