View trusted insights from KidsHealth.org, the No. 1 most-viewed health site for children, created by the experts at Nemours. We've also provided information from the most-respected nonprofit organizations.
Down Syndrome Special Needs Factsheet
What Teachers Should Know
Down syndrome (DS), also called Trisomy 21, is a chromosomal condition in which extra genetic material causes delays in the way a child develops, both mentally and physically. It affects about 1 in every 800 babies born in the United States.
Kids and teens with Down syndrome tend to share certain physical features such as a flat facial profile, an upward slant to the eyes, small ears, and a protruding tongue. They tend to grow at a slower rate and remain shorter than their peers.
Cognitively, DS can affect learning abilities in different ways, but most kids and teens with DS have mild to moderate intellectual impairment. Children with Down syndrome have delays in speech and motor skills, and may need assistance with self-care, such as dressing and grooming.
Medical problems associated with DS can vary widely from child to child. While some kids and teens with DS need a lot of medical attention, others lead healthy lives. People born with Down syndrome are at risk for:
- congenital heart disease
- vision and hearing problems
- thyroid problems
- neck problems
Students with Down syndrome may:
- need to go to school nurse for medications when necessary
- miss class time due to frequent medical appointments
- have behavior issues
- need visual and auditory accommodations for classroom instruction
- require physical, occupational, and speech therapies
- need extra time and assistance with class work
- require therapeutic staff support in the classroom
What Teachers Can Do
Students with Down syndrome can have a range of abilities, and there's no way to tell at birth what they will be capable of as they grow. Students with DS are capable of learning and developing new skills throughout their lives. They simply reach goals at a different pace. Remember to focus on the individual and learn firsthand about his or her capabilities and special needs.
Be aware of any medical concerns associated with Down syndrome that are specific to your student.
Students with Down syndrome are often enrolled in mainstream education systems and enjoy participating with peers in all kinds of classroom activities. Encourage physical fitness and involvement in all school activities, as well as extracurricular programs. Realize that you can make a big difference in your student's life. Learn the student's interests so you can create opportunities for the student to be successful in school.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 26, 2016