Visuo-spatial ability in individuals with Down syndrome: Is it really a strength?

Yingying Yang, Frances A. Conners, Edward C. Merrill

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


Down syndrome (DS) is associated with extreme difficulty in verbal skills and relatively better visuo-spatial skills. Indeed, visuo-spatial ability is often considered a strength in DS. However, it is not clear whether this strength is only relative to the poor verbal skills, or, more impressively, relative to cognitive ability in general. To answer this question, we conducted an extensive literature review of studies on visuo-spatial abilities in people with Down syndrome from January 1987 to May 2013. Based on a general taxonomy of spatial abilities patterned after Lohman, Pellegrino, Alderton, and Regian (1987) and Carroll (1993) and existing studies of DS, we included five different domains of spatial abilities - visuo-spatial memory, visuo-spatial construction, mental rotation, closure, and wayfinding. We evaluated a total of 49 studies including 127 different comparisons. Most comparisons involved a group with DS vs. a group with typical development matched on mental age and compared on a task measuring one of the five visuo-spatial abilities. Although further research is needed for firm conclusions on some visuo-spatial abilities, there was no evidence that visuo-spatial ability is a strength in DS relative to general cognitive ability. Rather, the review suggests an uneven profile of visuo-spatial abilities in DS in which some abilities are commensurate with general cognitive ability level, and others are below.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1473-1500
Number of pages28
JournalResearch in Developmental Disabilities
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • Closure
  • Down syndrome
  • Mental rotation
  • Review
  • Spatial memory
  • Visuo-spatial ability
  • Visuo-spatial construction
  • Wayfinding


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