Cognitive Functioning

Adolescents with Down syndrome are eligible for a free and appropriate education through the public school system until their 22nd birthday. At the time when their typically-developing peers are graduating from public high school, teens with Down syndrome generally remain in the secondary setting and receive education according to their Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). The goals, objectives, and learning strategies are tailored with an eye to each adolescent’s abilities, impairments, needs, interests, and life plan. In some cases, the IEP may reflect academic areas such as reading, writing, arithmetic, science, and social studies. For other adolescents, the focus may be on adaptive skills, including self care, household management, and job training.

We’ve come a long way in our understanding of the late teen years in individuals with Down syndrome. While there has been little research in the area of cognitive development in these youths during these years, there is a growing awareness that learning is continuous during this time. Many experts differentiate between academic learning and adaptive skills, citing three key points:

Nurses working with adolescents who have Down syndrome can play a pivotal role as an advocate for appropriate learning environments, age-appropriate activities, and rich stimulation. In many cases, the nurse can serve as a sounding board for parents, educators and developmental specialists who are discussing the balance between academic and adaptive learning.

Despite their cognitive impairments, many adolescents with Down syndrome learn self-care, household management, and work readiness skills.