22 July 2024

​Understanding Down syndrome

​Down syndrome affects each person differently. Each person has their own unique profile of strengths and areas where they may need support.

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Down syndrome is a genetic condition that influences learning and development. It occurs because cells contain an extra chromosome. In New Zealand, it's a common condition across all cultures, with one or more children being born with Down syndrome every week.

Video hosted on Youtube

Jodi and Matt Parry, parents of twins with Down syndrome, bust some of the myths about Down syndrome.

Characteristics of Down syndrome

Every person with Down syndrome is a unique individual. Often students will have strong empathy with others, good social skills, good short-term memory and visual learning skills.

Video hosted on Youtube

Sarah answers some questions about what it's like to have Down syndrome.

They may also have some the following characteristics to different degrees:

  • characteristic physical features – distinctive eye and nose shapes, low muscle tone, smaller in height, slower developing motor skills
  • health and development challenges – cardiac conditions, depressed immune system, hard of hearing or low vision
  • learning challenges – mild to moderate delays in developmental, behavioural, and interpersonal skills

Influence on learning

Students with Down syndrome will each have different strengths and preferences as learners. They will also experience their own set of challenges dependent on the situation.

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Student with Down syndrome rehearsing level 2 drama presentation for peer feedback.

Source: Ministry of Education | Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga

Ministry of Education | Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga

Common strengths and preferences

  • Strong empathy with others, social understanding and non-verbal communication
  • Good short-term memory
  • Visual learning skills
  • Regular positive affirmation

Common challenges

  • Learning new skills in short time frames
  • Maintaining concentration, and understanding complex spoken instructions
  • Communicating using spoken language
  • Developing functional use of literacy and numeracy
  • Acquiring new physical skills
  • Sensitivity to loud environments and stressed individuals

Next steps

Return to the guide “Down syndrome and learning”