Learn About Our Events

Keep in Touch

Become a part of the DSA online community by friending us on Facebook.

The Learning Program

Contact Information - dsalearningprogram@gmail.com
Donna Mulvihill: 214-557-3099 
DSA Learning Program Educator's Manual - click to view and download
Registration Deadline for 2014-2015 year is July 1st. Please see orientation packet for details and program meeting dates. See attached ORIENTATION PACKET and REGISTRATION FORMS for more details. (Download Links can be found at VERY BOTTOM of page)


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 Pilot program joins 15 affiliate programs around the country.



Families in our local Down Syndrome community find a large educational resource gap as our children transition from early intervention to public school. DSA has done well to provide family support and social opportunities to school age children, as well as outreach for community awareness. Specific, educational resources for our children have been hard to find.

“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 and DS self-advocate opportunities to the Birmingham area.



DSA-The Learning Program is currently opening registration for our 2014-2015 program, it is a 10 month program with 3 learning levels. There is not a registration limit, but we anticipate approximately 15-20 participating families.

  • We hold monthly instructional sessions for parents at DSA office on Canyon Road in Vestavia. The sessions cover a wide range of specific education topics, and home use materials are distributed to each family.
  • At this time, the program is a parent only – Meaning: parents are instructed monthly and sent home with material to work with their children. Data and feedback from our Pilot Program determined that it is most effective to remain Parent Only. We determined that fundraising dollars are better spent on educational outreach efforts, rather than paying for teachers/therapists/facilities for our relatively small group.
  • Our goal is to expand the number of Parent participants in our current program, as well as facilitate a larger educational outreach program in the Birmingham community. The scope and specifics of outreach efforts will be determined by the participants in the 2014-2015 Program Participants.



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 are now focusing on more long-range goals. We know that supporting our local school systems will serve many more children than the few that participate directly with us. THAT is becoming our outreach focus.

What does that look like? Here's a list of what our 2014-2015 program participants will tackle in the fall:

  • Fine tuning and approving DSA-LP mission, long-term and short-term objective
  • Present and approve Strategic Outreach Plan and/or event for the upcoming year
  • Present and approve Strategic Outreach Budget, timeline, and volunteer needs
  • Determine and implement Fundraising Plan based on Strategic Outreach Budget needs
  • OH --- Learn, Share, and Grow as we participate in the 2014-2015 Parent Program!


We are clearly in the ‘startup’ phase of this endeavor – but could not be more excited and optimistic about the program’s future benefit to our children and community impact as a whole!

“If you were sitting in the coffee shop with us in April 2013 and said ‘this is where you will be in Sept’ – I probably would have just smiled at your enthusiasm and thought ‘don’t I wish’!”

“This is exciting – This is what we NEED to understand as parents! We are the first for our children:  First Educator, First Advocate. This is true for any parent! For parents of children with any disability, the stakes just feel a little higher – because we KNOW our children’s education is going to take longer and require more input. This program gives us the tools we need.”

“We are part of something Big here! – Not just for our own families, but for Birmingham’s Down Syndrome community as a whole. This program equips us to communicate collaboratively with our schools. It provides an exciting opportunity for our DS families to connect and share our single biggest challenge in school age years.”



It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village committed to their children's education to implement an education intervention program!

If you have a child with Down Syndrome age 4-11(ish), learn more about the program specifics! We have included weblinks below for you to explore.  JOIN US for the 2014-2015 Program Year. REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN! Orientation and Registration Packets are Attached!!

If you can't commit to being part of our parent program, Learning Program materials can be printed FREE directly from DSFOC website  (You have to create a login to access 'archived' files, but it doesn't cost anything and you won't receive junk mail!). The program is directed to parents, as our child's first teacher. You can explore and benefit from the program even if you can't join us. Although, there is GREAT benefit in sharing the experience with other parents once a month.

Have a passion and/or gifts to help DSA-The Learning Program support our educational community - allowing us to serve many more children? LET US KNOW! There are many ways to be part of this exciting time:

Researching grant and in-kind donation opportunities.

Organizing and preparing grant materials.

Assisting with planning/implementing community outreach event(s).

Facilitating relationships with community partners and school systems.

Developing and/or coordinating fundraising opportunities.

Designing and/or producing promotional materials.

Tell your friends! Tell your teachers! Tell your therapists! - Share this exciting opportunity!

Passion and financial resources, but no time?

Our largest hurdle for producing educational outreach on that scale that we envision is to secure funding sources. Our program budget is small, but we want to reach beyond US - but we are starting from scratch. We are a non-profit program, and donations are tax deductible. If you, or business you know, is passionate about our cause - we graciously accept your support. 


“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









Downloadable Files
Orientation Packet 2014
Registration Forms 2014