Successful Education of Children with Down Syndrome
Downs Syndrome is a chromosomal disorder that has its beginnings at the time of conception. In the 1950″s, geneticists discovered that the human blood cell was comprised of 46 chromosomes. However, it was soon noted that a 47th chromosome was present in individuals suffering from Downs Syndrome. Although the characteristics of the disorder vary greatly among sufferers, commonly shared attributes include upward slanting eyes, abnormally shaped ears, a great susceptibility to health issues, and various levels of intellectual disability.
When educating children with Downs Syndrome, the overall priority should be no different than that given to the education of any child; the development of new skills, the learning of appropriate behavior, and the greatest possible degree of independence. However, there are common learning problems seen in a child with Downs Syndrome, and efforts must be made to address these areas.
Children with Downs Syndrome often have a brief attention span and are easily distracted. Educators can minimize this problem by eliminating potential distractions such as unnecessary decorations or complex handouts. Signals, such as hand gestures or small cue cards, can be developed and used to regain the attention of the child without causing disruption to other students. Learning what the child finds interesting or enjoyable and focusing lessons around these points can also help in retaining attention.
Many of the intellectual challenges experienced by children with Downs Syndrome stem from memory problems. Difficulties in the retention and application of information seriously affect the learning process. By presenting information in small increments and focusing study strategies around repetition and rehearsal of learned information, educators can minimize these problems to some degree.
Varying levels of speech and language problems, such as expression, articulation, and fluency, also occur in children with this disorder. Educators must be prepared to adjust subject matter and presentation to meet the needs of the child. In severe cases of limited expressive abilities, non-verbal responses achieved through hand gestures, symbols, or on computer, should be encouraged. Children with Downs Syndrome often become very frustrated when unable to communicate effectively. Patience is critical. Promoting increased listening skills while demonstrating appropriate communication can help these children improve their speech and language.
Speech problems are often directly linked to hearing deficiencies. When educating children with hearing impairments, visual aides have been found to be invaluable. Projectors, hand-outs, and pictures can provide key points in a lesson, as well as help the child maintain focus.
Appropriate social interaction can be strengthened by allowing these children to work together with other students of varying academic ability. Not only can a child with Downs Syndrome learn a great deal from peer example, but can also offer a different perspective to others. Working with younger students in areas they have mastered can give these children a sense of usefulness, independence, and belonging, critical to human social growth.
With patience and effort, these special children can learn more about the world around them. By listening, we can learn more about the world within them.