How to integrate children  with Down’s Syndrome into the classroom

11/05/2014

There has been a positive response to the Governments push for inclusion of children with disabilities into the mainstream classroom. Academic research has shown that children with disabilities perform better when included in an ‘ordinary’ class. It gives the child the chance to mix with children from their own locality and see them acting in an age-specific way. They also have good role models in their peers. Being in this school setting also includes the child in their local community. There is also the opportunity for non-disabled children to learn tolerance about children with Special Needs. The issue of inclusion is one for the whole school to approach, using an integrated policy. There is also the issue of staff development. There needs to be support for this idea throughout the whole of the school, and adequate resources provided.

What is Down’s syndrome?

The most common form of learning disability is Down’s syndrome. It affects one in every thousand children born each year. It is marked by the presence of an extra chromosome; each child has 47 instead of the usual 46. All Down’s syndrome children have a certain degree of learning difficulty, ranging across the spectrum between mild and severe. There is also a wide range in development between these children, just as in children without disabilities. However, children with Down’s syndrome develop more slowly, the gap between these children and their peers widening with age. Problems associated with Down’s syndrome

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All children have specific strengths and weaknesses, and children with Down’s syndrome are just the same. There are some ways in which these children can be helped, that will help them learn. The problems associated with Down’s may also be applicable to other children with disabilities, and some of the ways of dealing with them can be used across the mainstream school.

Problems

The problems associated with Down’s are listed below:

1. Hearing impairment
2. Visual impairment
3. Problems with gross and fine motor skills
4. Speech and language problems
5. Auditory skills – poor short term memory and processing skills
6. Short concentration span
7. Learning and retaining new skills
8. Adherence to routine and structured timetabling
9. Behaviour
10. Classroom integration

1. Hearing impairment

Many children with Down’s syndrome suffer from some form of hearing loss. It is thought that approximately 20% have developmental ear defects and damaged auditory nerves. As Down’s children have smaller ear canals and sinuses, they are prone to recurrent chest infections. This may cause glue ear; untreated this can lead to hearing impairment. Have a hearing defect will also affect the child’s speech and language development. 

How can we overcome this problem?
There are a number of strategies that we can use in the classroom to overcome the problem of hearing loss. These strategies apply to all children, not just those affected by Down’s syndrome. 

The first and most obvious solution is to place the child at the front of the class where they can see and hear the teacher clearly. It is important for the teacher to be facing the child squarely so that the child has every chance to hear what is being said. Using gestures and good facial expressions is also helpful. Visual aids, photographs, pictures, artefacts, print all help the child with hearing problems. The noise of the classroom can be confusing, and it is good practice for the teacher to repeat answers to questions for the child to give him the opportunity to respond. The child will also respond to written material, and writing key, new vocabulary on the board is an important feature.

2. Visual impairment 

Children with Down syndrome tend to have good visual awareness, even though a high percentage, between 60-70%, has been prescribed glasses before the age of 7. However, it is important to understand that there needs to be specific strategies in place in the classroom to make the whole of the curriculum available to them. 

Overcoming the problems
The child needs to be placed at the front of the class so that he can easily read the work written on the blackboard. When you are producing work cards or printing prose for use in the class, make sure that the size of the font is accessible and that the type of font is not too fussy (fussy) as it could be difficult for the child to read. It is also important to make all presented materials clear and as simple as possible.

3. Gross and fine motor skills control 

Many children with Down syndrome have poor muscle tone and loose joints. This affects both gross and fine motor control, meaning that motor development can be delayed and also restricts experiences in the Early Years. Because of this, a child will find that he is affected when beginning to write, further restricting his development. 

How to overcome this
Give the child plenty of opportunities to practice this skill, sending home some work sheets for practice, where the parents can give extra support and help. All of the child’s motor skills will improve if he is given the chance to practice them. As the child may have loose joints, there is the need to provide strengthening exercises for his wrist and fingers. These can take the form of tracing, sorting, cutting, building etc. Most of these are an extension of activities usually provided in the Early Years settings and are easily copied by parents at home. Make sure that all of the activities you provide are relevant, yet enjoyable, so that the child has every chance to progress.

4. Speech and language problems 

By the time children have entered full-time compulsory education, their needs should have been assessed and the level of help to be provided by speech or language therapists should have been established. These professionals, who should be able to offer some support to you in your efforts to teach the Downs syndrome child, will see them regularly.

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There are many reasons why the children with Down’s syndrome have difficulties with speech and language problems. Some of the problems are physical in nature, and some are due to perceptual and cognitive problems. Delays in understanding and learning will inevitably lead to cognitive delays. Any learning delay will mean that the child will have a restricted access to the schools’ curriculum. However, a child with Downs will be able to understand far more than they are able to express. This means that their cognitive skills may well be underestimated. 

The child may have a restricted vocabulary, unable to learn the complex rules of English grammar. As the child is able to learn words rather than the order of the words, this means that they have problems with social language. Language specific to subjects in the curriculum are difficult for these children to learn as they are infrequently used in daily life. They also have difficulties understanding instructions. 

Forming words is difficult as children with Downs’s syndrome as they have a smaller mouth cavity and the muscles in the tongue and mouth are weaker also. 

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