Resources for students with Down Syndrome and Autism

Looking for resources to teach special needs children, found the following which are going to be added to my essential classroom materials.

Sparkle Box: great selection of early primary resources for literacy, numeracy, signs and labels, resources for themes (role play, everyday life, living things, weather and seasons, places etc), classroom management tools, editable resources.

do2learn: Ahuge selection of resources for games, songs, communication cards, print resources and information for special needs.

The Learning Program: It is necessary to register for these resources, no charge though.  Great selection of literacy, maths and daily living resources for young Down Syndrome learners from early intervention to primary.  Literacy resources here are free, word cards and booklets can be printed free of charge. Level 2 readers need to be purchases.

I was particularly inspired by the research that had been done by Natalie Hale and have learned a lot about how Down Syndrome children can learn to read, using the correct instruction.  I’m reprinting this valuable information below for the benefit of special education teachers, general teachers and parents.  Thank you so much Natalie!  Natalie has additional resources available at Special Reads for Special Needs.

The following is taken from Special Reads for Special Needs.


This one’s easy. We work with whatever floats their boat, whatever fires their jets. What do I mean by that? We begin to teach reading by focusing on topics that they care about more than anything in the world, and work from there.

Particularly with learners who have a reputation for being strong willed (what, my child?) it’s essential to hook their motivation. It’s not an exaggeration to say that engaging motivation is a prerequisite for teaching your learner with Down syndrome to read.

Our children have enough challenges before them; to struggle to read about things which do not interest them in the least is counter-productive. We want to hone in on their absolute favorite things on the planet and work with reading from there.

Are you ready? Good!

We begin by making an “A” list. Start your project by listing three items in each of these categories:

  1. favorite people/family members/pets
  2. favorite foods
  3. favorite toys/ activities/sports.

Your list of 9 topics will vary greatly depending on the age of your learner. Once you’ve completed your list, you’re armed with 9 different routes to the heart of your learner’s reading motivation.

So now what?

Now you begin. This plan, which is research-based and respected as best practice for teaching individuals with Down syndrome to read (regardless of age!), begins with sight words coupled with personal books.

Head to your nearest office supply store and stock up on the following simple items:

1. 5” x 8” blank index cards for making flash cards (if you can’t find blank, use the reverse side of lined index cards)

2. A ream of 110# card stock paper, white (for printing your books)

3. Several red markers: broad or chisel-tipped (for making flash cards)

Your job will be easiest if you have access to a computer and a printer, and I’ll assume you do as we progress through this reading process. But if you don’t, you’ll just write everything by hand.

With your Hot Topic List and your office supplies in hand, you’re going to write your first book.

For this exercise, I’m going to assume that you have an emergent or beginning reader as a student. If your learner is more advanced, simply write your reading books at a more advanced level.

1. Write the text for your first reading book. For a beginning reader, try to limit yourself to a vocabulary list of only 10-15 words. Here is an example of what you might do; keep in mind that each short sentence occupies a page all by itself. I am Joseph. I love my Mama. I love my Daddy. I love Sarah. I love my family. The End. After each short sentence page, the next page turn will reveal a picture all by itself: pictures will be of Joseph, then Mama & Joseph, then Daddy & Joseph, then Sarah & Joseph, then a picture of the whole family. Kids love “The End,” because it gives them a feeling of reading accomplishment and success, so teach those words from the beginning. With this example, you’ve got a total of 11 vocabulary words. Perfect for your first book.

2. Create flash cards for all the words, using your index cards and the red marker. The most effective reading method for learners with Down syndrome uses large red letters, so make your words as large as possible on your 5” x 8” cards. Either print them or computer in red ink, or use your red markers and try to make the letters as uniform and well-formed as you can. You’re after visual clarity, so keep that in mind.

3. Take photos which correspond to your text (digital camera is most convenient if you have one), or use magazine cut-outs if appropriate.

4. Write the text on your computer and print it, with these guidelines:

a. Set the page setup as landscape
b. Use 70 to 100 point type, black ink
c. Use the 110# index paper stock you’ve bought
d. Print only one short sentence to a page
e. Assemble your book with NOTHING ever on the left page when you’re looking at a double-    spread.The best way to bind it is to take it to an office supply store/kinko’s/etc and ask for “plastic coil binding.” Don’t use “comb binding.” It lasts about 5 minutes in the hands of a child before coming apart.
f. Assemble it in this way:

1. text page on right side page
2. turn the page
3. picture page illustrating the previous text, on right side page also
4. turn the page
5. next text page, right side page
6. turn the page
7. next picture page illustrating the previous text, right side page again
8. etc.

So this is what we’re doing: we are creating a book which is Hot Topic for your learner with Down syndrome, a reading book which is highly motivating and personal. We’re coupling that with your learner’s first reading vocabulary. And we’re going to use the fastest, most effective method for teaching those sight words.

And what’s that method? We call it Fast Flash. It’s simple, astonishingly effective, and has a decades-old track record of success.

Here it is: divide your flash cards into groups of 5 or so; show each set 3-4 times to your learner, calling out the words as you move the cards at a rate of approximately one per second. There are brain-based reasons which support this method, and we’ll cover that in another lesson. But for now, just try it and you’ll believe it!

Then read the book to your learner and enjoy it together. End by showing/calling out the flash cards again, 3 or 4 times in a row, as before. End of session!

A frequent question is: “Does my student have to repeat the word aloud as I flash them?” No. The only requirement is that they look at the cards and listen as you say the word.

As your learner begins to be able to recognize the words, encourage him/her to read the words aloud. Eventually you’ll have an independent reader for this book, and that’s just the beginning.

Many parents and educators have made the amazing discovery that, using this reading method, their learners with Down syndrome grasp and retain all the vocabulary words in as little as a few weeks’ time. When this happens, motivation and excitement are so high that your learner gets on the reading fast track and, with continued reading support, just keeps going.

We love to see what you’ve created; so if you feel inspired to send us a photo of your child and his/her reading book, please do!

When You Have Down Syndrome

I could give you an official quote from a highly respected research source to back up this claim, and I certainly will later in this article.

But I want to start with the story a young man I’ll call Brian.

A recent transplant from out of state, Brian arrived at my tutoring doorstep nearing his 12th birthday. He was standing at my door only because he had missed the boat. That elusive reading boat had somehow passed him right by.

He could read only a few color words and the names of his former classmates, the latter skill sadly being of no use whatever in his new home in California.

In addition to Down syndrome, Brian had just a touch of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and basically had only one interest in life: emergencies. Ambulances, hospitals, and “Call 911!” floated his boat, big time.

These restrictions and his disinterest in reading not withstanding, his parents ached for Brian to be able to read. So here he was.

My method with our learners with Down syndrome, regardless of age, is to begin teaching reading by focusing laser-like on what interests them most.

Many years ago, I did that with my own son Jonathan (now 24), who also has Down syndrome. At age 5, I made his first book, “Spaghetti,” because it was his Number One Favorite Food in the universe. Within two weeks, he had learned the eleven vocabulary words in the book, and could read the homemade picture-less book perfectly. I continued the method and creating homemade books, and he was soon off and running as a reader.

But back to our friend Brian.

I created personal reading books for Brian built exclusively around emergencies. I downloaded internet images of stethoscopes, blook pressure cuffs, wheechairs, you name it – all those things that made him sit up and take notice with eyes wide open.

I knew that this was the way in, the way to hook him, and I was prepared to make these books ‘till the cows came home, until I could reel him in and land “Brian The Reader.” I didn’t care how long it took.

After several months of this, one day Brian arrived for his lesson and noticed—for the first time—a stack of early reading books I designed and use with my other students. These books had always been close by, and Brian had always ignored them. But not today. Today he grabbed several of them and plopped them on the worktable.

“These!” he announced. I was nearly speechless. “Brian, you want to read those books?”

“Yes!” he yelled.

Veeery carefully, treading gently lest I shatter this amazing moment, I led him through reading the books. When we finished, he pushed his chair back from the table. “MORE!” he yelled.

“You want more books like these, Brian?” I was stunned.


And we were off and running. I felt like high-fiveing Helen Keller’s Annie Sullivan. Dude! Within weeks, his mother reported, “Brian came home from the school library today with books on volcanoes and Native Americans!” Who knew?

And that was how Brian The Reader was born. There are many other stories, of course, from many other teachers, but this one remains my favorite.

Now for the official research quote I promised you…This is from Sue Buckley, head researcher and director of Downs Ed International, and can be found in their series, Teaching Reading and Writing to Individuals with Down Syndrome:

“It is always too early to say that children, young people, or adults cannot learn to read…children with Down syndrome can ‘take off’ with reading at any age.”

She further states, “Almost all children with Down syndrome are capable of reaching a level of reading achievement that will be functionally useful if we, their parents and teachers, believe that this is possible and steadily help them to progress.”

Well said! And repeatedly proven to be true. It’s NEVER too late to learn to read!