Background A number of genetic conditions with associated intellectual disability and/or special educational needs have increasingly well-defined behavioural phenotypes. Thus, the concept of ‘behavioural phenotype’ and aetiology of intellectual disability may be important with regard to school-based interventions.
Method The evidence for distinctive cognitive and behavioural aspects of five of the most common genetic syndromes (Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, Williams syndrome, Prader–Willi syndrome and velo-cardio-facial syndrome) associated with special educational needs is reviewed with respect to key studies and findings. The possible utility of aetiology-related interventions in education is discussed with reference to arguments for and against such approaches with respect to published guidelines and published research.
Results Behavioural phenotypes are probabilistic and many children with a specific genetic syndrome will share commonalities with other children with other genetic syndromes and within syndrome variability is not uncommon. There is evidence that teachers and parents have limited knowledge of aspects of the proposed cognitive and behaviour profiles associated with the reviewed syndromes. While there are published guidelines in the area of learning and behaviour for each of the five reviewed syndromes there is a limited amount of evidence of the efficacy of such approaches in school settings.
Conclusion It is likely that knowing the aetiology of a child's special educational needs will be helpful for staff who work in school settings in relation to cognitive and behavioural implications. However, how such knowledge might inform teaching practice or behavioural interventions has not been studied. A model is proposed that might help inform educators about the possible role of aetiology in the classroom.