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Information For Teachers

Information for Teachers

Cognitive Abilities of Children with Down’s syndrome – Delayed or Different?

Much of the research into the cognitive abilities of children with Down’s syndrome suggests that their development follows a similar route to that of typically developing children but that these developments are delayed. Unlike their typically developing peers, children with Down’s syndrome do not seem to have a constant trajectory of development. The rate of development, as measured by IQ, seems to become progressively slower over time and it is presently unclear exactly when this deceleration rate of development ends. Researchers who have studied the development of these children in greater detail and over long periods of time report that development is actually different as well as delayed.

Visual Defects Affecting School Performance

Visual defects in children with learning disabilities are often not picked up, as it is assumed that any difficulties in learning or behaviour are due to the learning disability. It is therefore important that parents, teachers and other professional are aware of the types of behaviour or difficulties that may be associated with visual problems.

Teachers are in a good position to identify any visual problems if they know what they are looking for. Physical signs (irritated eyes, screwing up their eyes, and frequent blinking) along with behaviours (poor concentration, distractibility, clumsiness) are indicators of possible visual problems.

Visual skills such as distance acuity, near acuity, eye movement control, near point convergence (movement of eyes in towards the nose), stereopsis (binocular vision), colour awareness and posture are all needed for classroom tasks. Even children who appear to be adjusting typically to the school environment may have visual problems, which are keeping them from reaching their full potential. Some behaviours associated with visual problems:

Poor concentration
Avoiding near tasks
Incomplete work
Emotional outbursts
Frustration with school
Inability to do several things at once

Detailed next are behaviours associated with deficits in areas of distance acuity, nystagmus, near acuity and colour awareness.


The ability to see a certain sized target at a distance

Studies have shown that children with Down’s syndrome have reduced acuity (detailed vision) compared with their typically developing peers, even when significant long or short sight is corrected with glasses. Teachers need to be aware of this so that suitable provisions can be made. Uncorrected long or short sight and eye conditions like nystagmus reduce vision further.

The following behaviours may be observed as a result of difficulties with distance acuity:

  • Squinting (screwing up their eyes)
  • Moving closer to the board or TV
  • Inability to identify shapes at a distance
  • Errors in copying from the board – or very slow
  • Rubbing eyes
  • Failure to pay attention when work is being done on the board
  • Requires more verbal prompting to stay on task

Possible remediations:

  • Recommend the child be seen for a full eye examination
  • Move child’s desk, or seat closer to the board
  • Write larger on the board or change the colour of chalk/marker used – increase the contrast i.e. black on white / white on black
  • Reduce amount of copying from the board

Nystagmus is a continual, regular, but uncontrollable movement of the eyes

The following behaviours are common among children with nystagmus :

  • The child may adopt an unusual head position (known as the ‘null’ position) – as this is a point where the movement is least and thus vision is best
  • Lack of concentration
  • Frustration
  • Becomes increasingly disruptive as level of work intensifies, and usually becomes worse towards the end of the day

Possible remediations:

  • Encourage the child to find the best head position which allows them the least amount of visual disturbance
  • Position the child in the classroom to accommodate the child’s head turn
  • Allow the child additional time for completing written tasks as scanning is difficult
  • Allow the child to copy information from worksheets in front of them rather than from the board
  • The amount of detail a child can see is reduced so increase size and contrast of text. Reduce visual distractions from worksheets.


Ability to see objects that are within 18 inches from the face


The following behaviours may be observed as a result of difficulties with near acuity:

  • Child moving head closer to writing/reading/activity
  • Squinting (screwing up their eyes)
  • Red or watering eyes
  • Child takes a long time to complete tasks
  • Child has difficulty staying on task and often does not complete task
  • Easily frustrated
  • Standard of work produced becomes poorer when smaller print is used
  • Difficulty keeping written work on the lines provided

Possible remediations:

  • Recommend the child to be seen for a full eye examination
  • Provide worksheets/books with larger print and increased contrast
  • Reduce the amount of information on a page/worksheet
  • Provide correct desk size and desk easel
  • If child is writing or colouring, ensure the lines are bold and clear

Ability to discriminate between colours

The following behaviours may be observed as a result of difficulties with colour awareness:

  • Unable or delayed in learning colour names
  • Unable to differentiate colours
  • Mismatches colours
  • Difficulties with colour-coded books and colour-coded instructions on worksheets

Possible remediations:

  • Be aware that the child may not see coloured print in textbooks
  • Take note that blue and green are the most often misidentified or confused colours
  • Eliminate colour-coded instructions
  • Teach traffic lights/pedestrian crossing signals by position of light rather then colour



If a child in your class has visual difficulties it is important that you know how any visual problems will affect school work and how to manage any difficulties. If glasses have been prescribed you need to know what they have been prescribed for, and when they should be worn. Most eyecare practitioners will be happy to produce a written report for teachers, but you may need to request one.