Tips for Teaching a Child with Down Syndrome to Read

The following is a guest post by Eliana Tardio, publisher of and mother of two children with Down syndrome.

Years ago, it was hard to believe that children with Down syndrome would be able to read. Thankfully, times have changed. Now, it’s great for me to share from my personal experience that my son who is 9 years old is already reading and my daughter who’s 6 has received an “Emerging Reader” award this year.
Both of my kids have Down syndrome and if you ask them, I guess they would say that growing up is an awesome experience, including learning to read. There are 3 principles that guide my path as I teach my kids anything new, but especially when teaching my children with Down syndrome how to read:

1. Respecting their unique timing

Something that I have always empowered my kids with is a celebration of their own abilities. I’ve taught them to be proud of their achievements without comparison. Respecting their own timing and letting them learn at their own pace tells them that we appreciate their effort and that life is not measured by results but for our desire to always do our best.

2. Teaching them to enjoy the path of learning

Learning should never be forced or achieved under pressure. Learning is a joy, and that’s a gift that we should be able to share with our kids; teaching them to enjoy the path of learning and feeling able to open their world to the letters and words that will eventually come.

3. Learning that life is not a competition

Another great lesson that comes when raising a child with special needs of any type is that life is not a competition. Learning is not about collecting A’s at school or trying to demonstrate that your child is better than anyone else’s. This is all about providing your child with the tools he may need for developing the most of his abilities, no matter how limited they may seem, and not comparing with others.

Eliana T daughter

How to teach them to read:
As with any other child, your child with special needs starts learning as a baby. You can follow these steps to familiarize him or her with literature.

  • Read to your child in utero.
  • Choose a favorite book and read it for him over and over again.
  • Give him special time to listen to you read while he’s sitting in your lap and following the pictures.
  • Promote his interest by using cardboard books that he can manipulate.
  • Go for simple-looking books in the beginning. Black and white books are sometimes less overwhelming, allowing your child to focus his attention more easily.
  • Single words books are great for association and for learning by repetition. Simple is sometimes better.
  • Provide her with subjects that are interesting for her. The same as any other child, yours will get excited and motivated for the characters and plot lines they enjoy most.

Something important to keep in mind when you raise a child with Down syndrome or speech delays of any kind, is that the speech errors they make may create insecurity in them. They may be shy to share what they know or be able to express much less than they understand. Be patient, reward them often, and celebrate every bit of progress.

My son reads stories for my daughter at bedtime, but used to be very shy about demonstrating his abilities at school. Nobody believed me when I said he knew how to read until I taped him and sent a copy to his teacher. The teacher set up a very special moment for him and played the video for the whole classroom! Ever since then, he’s been unafraid to use his voice in front of others. His language is still developing but feeling that people celebrate his efforts has empowered him to keep reading while showing off all that he’s able to do.


Eliana Tardío, is the mother of Emir & Ayelén, both with Down syndrome. Eliana works as a Family Resource and Marketing Specialist for the Early Intervention program of Southwest Florida. She writes for several online publications about her experience as the Latina mom of two kids with special needs, providing what she calls “the most important advice for anyone: Hope in love.” Named as one of the Top 100 Moms Bloggers by, and one of the 7 Most Inspirational Latina Moms by Café Mom, Eliana’s advocacy work has garnered her many awards, not only in the USA, but around the world.


  1. says

    It is so nice to see all of the learning opportunities available today for special needs children. I had a cousin with Downs Syndrome and even though she went to a “special” school she wasn’t taught reading or writing.

    Back then, all they taught were things that might help her get through the day. Things like folding your clothes and doing household chores. I always thought that was sad, but I was also just a child back then. It’s just something I never forgot.

    I’m really glad that this has changed, but I also realize more people need to get a better understanding of special needs children. Thank you for sharing your knowledge in this area!

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