Disabled children require special provisions in order to have a productive learning environment.
Students with Down Syndrome in the classroom
With the right set of conditions and resources, it is quite possible for them to learn and excel in the classroom. In order to help students with Down syndrome succeed in the classroom, teachers need to have the right skills and proper teaching resources to achieve positive results.
What is Down syndrome?
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that is caused by a chromosomal abnormality that occurs right after birth. Typically, everyone is born with 46 chromosomes. However, individuals with Down syndrome are born with 47 chromosomes. This triggers abnormal changes in the development of the child’s brain and body.
Children with Down syndrome have very distinct characteristics. They are generally small-bodied, with a flat face and a tongue that protrudes out. They also suffer from learning challenges and most are classified as either mildly or moderately disabled.
Down syndrome and its affect on learning
The IQ level of children with Down syndrome usually falls in the mild to moderate intellectual disability category. The single extra chromosome defines whether a child is going to have a genetic disorder; however, it does not have to define what the child is capable of achieving. While children with Down syndrome often have some form of learning disability, this can often mask a range of talents and abilities.
As already indicated, children with Down syndrome usually develop at a slower pace than their peers. Just because they may not be able to meet an educational milestone at the same pace as other children does not mean they can never reach it at all. As with other learners, there is a wide range of abilities among children with Down syndrome.
Down syndrome – learning strengths
Every child is terrific. That said, it does not hurt to be reminded that the same traits that make them terrific are the ones you can tap on to optimize their learning potential.
Here are some of the key strengths that define children with Down syndrome:
- A strong preference for visual learning
- A natural inclination to technology
- Strong capacity for social understanding and empathy
- Stead vocabulary acquisition
- Strong short-term memory
- Age-appropriate self-help and daily living skills
Down syndrome – learning challenges
Certainly, kids with Down syndrome have challenges that can affect the way they acquire new skills. Keeping these challenges in mind will certainly guide you toward selecting the right mix of curricula, materials, and teaching aids that will maximize the child’s learning process.
Some specific learning challenges that characterize kids with Down syndrome include:
- Poor auditory memory
- Hearing and visual weakness
- Sequencing difficulties
- Fine motor skills impairment thanks to low muscle tone
- Brief attention span and distractibility
Students with Down syndrome and classroom strategies
A child’s placement in an educational system varies based on their specific strengths and weaknesses. In fact, some schools even include children with Down syndrome in the regular education system. While these kids are capable of learning, they often need additional resources outside of the mainstream classroom. Most district schools also have a special classroom for disabled learners, like those with Down syndrome, that are unable to cope with the traditional learning environment. As a teacher, there are a number of strategies that you can put in place to help learners with Down syndrome excel.
Create inclusivity for students with Down Syndrome
Strive to create a classroom environment where every learner, regardless of their level of intellectual ability, has a sense of belonging in the group and is comfortable interacting with peers. Encourage your students to freely talk and interact positively with one another. This will create a relaxed and comfortable classroom environment that is key to boosting their confidence.
Due to the differential facial features kids with Down syndrome exhibit, it is important that these children are made to feel proud of their appearance. Motivating them to feel positive about their appearance allows them to build healthy self-esteem both at school and home. Remember, every boy wants to feel handsome and every girl wants to be pretty. Create an environment where their peers speak positively about their appearance and capabilities.
Increase attention span
Most children with Down syndrome tend to suffer from a limited attention span. They are easily distracted by simple things like a fly on the desk or a light on the ceiling. In order to optimize their learning capabilities, it is important that you break the lesson into small segments. They need to be taught slowly and given frequent breaks that fit into their short attention span. The class should be open to change and flexibility.
Most children with Down syndrome tend to have pronunciation difficulty. It is important that you help them learn to talk clearly and coherently. Encourage them to talk clearly even as you speak clearly and coherently to them. Pay attention to those words and phrases that they have trouble pronouncing and try to train them to pronounce correctly.
Early intervention in preschool for kids with Down syndrome
Most toddlers with Down syndrome can, and do, attend childcare, playgrounds, centers, and preschool settings with their peers. This is always a great opportunity for them to learn and interact with other children.
Early learning and intervention professionals work with parents and teachers to promote learning and development in the daily lives of children with Down syndrome.
Children with Down syndrome should be allowed to participate in the same activities as their peers. Additionally, they should be held responsible and rewarded for their behavior like the other kids. There should be no behavior set for children with Down syndrome.
Children with Down syndrome tend to get frustrated by their inability to express themselves. Because of this, it is not unusual for children with Down syndrome to express themselves through behaviors – sometimes undesirable ones. It is advisable that you look beyond the child’s behavior to understand the message they are trying to communicate. This is key to understanding the child, rewarding their behavior, and teaching them in the classroom.
Teaching strategies for students with Down syndrome
The following strategies can help you teach reading to learners with Down syndrome:
- Capitalizing on the child’s visual-spatial learning style with the help of multimedia teaching resources
- Keeping instructions well-structured and predictable
- Incremental teaching, with each lesson building upon what was learned in the previous lesson
- Breaking reading tasks into manageable pieces with multiple breaks in between
- Aiding instructions with game-based plays
Reading programs for learners with Down syndrome
The reading program choice is critical when teaching children with Down syndrome. Simply opting for the first curriculum that looks appealing to you can turn out to be disastrous for the students. It is important that you adopt an individualized approach that optimizes the child’s unique strengths while minimizing their weaknesses.
The following questions can help you pick the best reading program for students with Down syndrome. These questions will determine whether the program is ideal for your learners. The best reading program for Down syndrome should align with the learners’ specific learning needs and capabilities.
- Does it come with plenty of visual aids and visually-based instructions?
- Does it have an option for the keyboard instead of handwriting input?
- Does it include activities and/or modalities to teach specific reading concepts?
Children with Down syndrome tend to learn and progress slower than their “normal” peers. However, not all areas of the child’s development are affected by Down syndrome. By understanding how learning and development are different in children with Down syndrome, you can figure out more effective teaching approaches and strategies.