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The Learning Program

The Learning Program is introducing exciting changes in meeting format for 2015/16 that better accommodate busy schedules, AND make the program more accessible to communities outside of Birmingham. (Current/Past LP members will need to attend kick-off to understand program format changes)

Contact Information -
Donna Mulvihill: 214-557-3099 

What IS The Learning Program??

The Learning Program (LP) is a research-based literacy and math resource for children with Down syndrome and other visual learners. It equips parents as their child’s first teacher. It complements public school curriculum and encourages communication and collaboration with teachers and therapists. Birmingham’s DSA-LP will begin its 3rd year in September.  


DSA-The Learning Program is currently opening registration for our 2015-2016 program, it is a 10 month program with 3 learning levels.

  • The program material is offered via monthly webex directly from DSFOC. Registration at any point in the program year allows access to all 10 sessions. Sessions may be viewed as many times as you like, at what ever time is convenient for you.
  • DSFOC will post monthly materials for download, as well as discount pricing on materials from their online store
  • DSA-the Learning Program will meet quarterly, beginning in Nov 2015, to discuss webex materials and offer local support. 
  • DSA-LP will also form community groups that may meet on monthly basis, depending on interest of area participants.
  • Material printing IS available through DSA for individuals for a VERY reasonable rate. DSA-LP also has scholarships available for materials.

Join us for an Open House on Saturday September 12th

  • We will have a short overview of the program
  • Current participants will be on hand to answer questions and share their experience
  • Sample program materials will be available to see and touch (for us visual/tactile learners!)

On-line Registration will be available at meeting

Send RSVP and questions to:
Corrie Merchant 205-915-7479Beverly Mulvihill 205-422-5714


The Learning Program is a research based reading, language, and math teaching intervention program designed specifically for children with Down Syndrome.

  • Over the past 15-20 years, researchers have made significant progress in understanding the effects of Down Syndrome on learning. This research has identified a specific profile of developmental strengths and challenges which make the learning needs of children with Down Syndrome unique from most other children.
  • In 2009, the first large, randomized controlled trial of an educational intervention designed for children with Down Syndrome was conducted by Down Syndrome Education.  This landmark study has been published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and is the foundation of materials and application of The Learning Program
    • After only 20 weeks, children with Down syndrome taught using the program had made substantially more progress than those receiving typical classroom literacy instruction (which included 1:1 support)
    • On average, the children using the program gained 4.5 words on a standardized reading measure in 20 weeks – more than twice as many as those not using the program(this measure is equal to a typically developing child’s progress)
    • Although only 60% of children with Down syndrome were able to score on a standardized reading test at start of the study, 90% could score after receiving the intervention – 50% more children
    • By the end of the study, 1 in 5 children with Down syndrome had achieved word reading skills as good as typically developing children.
    • Currently, the program is being piloted in San Antonio, Texas.  The pilot is converting the work done in the UK to the USA education system in the North East Independent School District (NEISD). This pilot study will be a landmark in the United States, as there is no known evidence based reading intervention in place in the US education system that is geared specifically towards children with Down syndrome. Down Syndrome Foundation of Orange County (DSFOC) partnered with Down Syndrome Education International, Down Syndrome Education USA, educators, therapists, and administrators to develop a program that uses effective teaching strategies and customized material to support families of children with DS in the education process.
    • It supplements traditional education with parents as first teachers.It compliments formal instruction in literacy and math, with occupational and speech therapy components.
    • It is designed specifically for the learning profile (strengths and challenges) of a childe with Down Syndrome: Visual learners, short auditory memory, strong whole word learning – rather than traditional phonetic applications.
  • The Learning Program is designed and administered by Down Syndrome Foundation of Orange County (DSFOC) - Birmingham’s program joins over 20 affiliate programs around the country.


Families in our local Down Syndrome community historically have found a large educational resource gap as our children transition from early intervention to public school. 

“We get great support and information up to age 3. Then we are sent into public school systems with a transition meeting and ‘good luck’. There are general ‘rights’ resources for all children with disabilities, but very little that is specific to education of children with DS – and we KNOW the information is out there on a national level. As parents, we know our children can learn and achieve – It simply takes more time, and tools that target our children’s learning profile. But most of us are not trained educators, and we don’t know how to best teach our children or communicate their strengths with the school systems”

A small group of parents began looking for something designed to support the EDUCATION of our children with DS. In April of 2013, we discovered The Learning Program and began working together to bring this solid, research based program to the Birmingham community. In August 2013, this grassroots effort culminated in the formation of DSA-The Learning Program, a subgroup within DSA. The Learning Program is working with DSA to bring a research based education resource to our children, as well as community support to the much broader Birmingham metro and surrounding counties.


A lot of important elements must fall into place for DSA-The Learning Program make a positive footprint in our community. 

DSA-The Learning Program is a 501c3 non-profit program. It maintains separate finances, fundraising, and volunteer organization from our larger DSA parent organization. After getting our feet wet in our pilot year (2013-2014), we dove into the deep end of educational outreach in our 2014-2015 program year! With the support of DSA, some generous local businesses, and group fundraising we hosted a very successful Educators Conference in June 2015. While we don't have the volunteer power to host a conference of THAT scope annually, we are very excited to use the conference as a springboard into a more comprehensive plan for outreach into our school systems. We know that supporting our local school systems will serve many more children than the few that participate directly with us. 

“Reading is one of the most powerful ways of helping children with Down syndrome overcome their speech, language and cognitive delays. Teaching reading to teach talking is probably the single most effective intervention for helping children with Down syndrome to overcome their learning difficulties.”

 - Sue Buckley, Researcher DS Education International


Learning Program Boston Video

DSFOC - materials archive (must create login)

More about Patricia Oelwein's method utilized by LP

Down Syndrome Education - USA

DSA Learning Program Educator's Manual - click to view and download





Downloadable Files