There is always the tendency for adults to finish off sentences for those who are finding difficulties in articulation. Give the child enough time to respond to questioning, as he may already have a problem in this area. Listen closely to all the child has to say. After a while you will be attuned to the child and able to easily interpret his response. Try to maintain eye contact, using short sentences and familiar language. As with hearing impairment, make sure the child is concentrating fully, watching your facial expressions as a clue to content.
Make sure that you use all available media to reinforce instructions, such as print, diagrams, symbols and the use of materials the child can feel and touch. Using visual aids to reinforce learning is also appropriate.
Use of open-ended questioning should be encouraged as it asks the child to reply in more than one word, using sentences. It is useful for the child to be part of the whole class, reading their work in the Literacy plenary as well as working in small groups to encourage integration. As some of these children may have a shorter attention span, it is important that the activities offered to them should be focused on strengthening auditory skills and reinforcing oral work.
Poor auditory skill – short-term memory and processing skills
The auditory short-term memory is the area of the memory that is used to ‘listen’ to what is being said in a conversation and then respond properly to it. The information is held, processed, understood and then assimilated for the length of time that it takes to respond. This deficit ion this area will affect the child’s ability to converse with his peers or answer direct questions from his teachers. It will be hard for them to follow verbal instructions or to remember the instructions accurately.
It is important that the child is given the time to respond to questions and that any instructions are kept to a minimum. If there is a whole class instruction, try and also repeat the information on a one to one basis with the child. If possible, allow for visual instructions by the teacher or any other adults involved with the child. Remember that children with Downs’s syndrome are more visual than auditory learners so concentrate on this aspect of their skills. Their listening skills are not as good as their visual skills.
Short concentration span
Many Downs syndrome children are easily distracted and have a short concentration span. It is usual for the child to have a support worker in the class, and this means that the child may become more easily tired having to concentrate fully on one person speaking.
Make sure that the child is given short, focused tasks that are sensitively planned. It may be useful for there to be a set of activities kept in a small area of the classroom where the child and his support worker can go when they have finished the set tasks. The selection can include items such as jigsaws, books, cards and toys that have a link to the part of the curriculum being studied. This structured situation allows the child choice in a structured way. To encourage the Down’s child to integrate fully into the class, it may be possible to allow another child to be part of this activity, encouraging cooperative skills and friendships.
Learning and retaining new skills
Down’s children in general have difficulties in transferring skills across the curriculum. The children take longer to learn and consolidate new skills. They also retain differing amounts of information from day to day. It is possible to help the Downs syndrome child by extra repetition, presentation of key skills in a variety of ways and use every opportunity to use visual stimuli. Make sure that all skills are built upon, and that the skills remain after new input.
Routine and structured timetabling
Downs syndrome children do not like changes to routine, so it is advisable for you to have a coherent routine that the children can rely upon. Unstructured routines are not conducive to learning for them. Upon transition to new situations, allow the child to have enough time to adjust. Make sure that the child is conversant with his timetable, presenting it in a number of forms. It may be a good strategy to give him a pictorial representation of this for him to refer to, and his adult helper may help him to trace his progress throughout his school day. Try to keep to this routine as much as possible. If there is to be large-scale change to this timetable, allow time for the child to adjust and also give advance warning of these changes to his parents.
Bad behaviour is not just a problem encountered by the teacher of children with Down’s syndrome, it is one faced by us all. Usually the Downs child’s behaviour is related to his immature development, but it is similar to children’s behaviour in a younger age group.
However, Down’s children have more problems to contend with than their peers, due to their problems as outlined above. They are more vulnerable to change, and are therefore more likely to be fretful and anxious. They also have good avoidance skills, being able to divert attention from their rigid attention to tasks by bad behaviour.
Strategies to help in the classroom
It is imperative that the child knows the boundaries of behaviour expected in the classroom, and the child with Down’s syndrome should not be treated any differently to his peers in this respect. Try and make sure that all instructions given are short and explicit, avoiding the opportunity for the child to misinterpret the meaning of the instruction. Also, try to identify if the child is ‘unable’ or ‘unwilling’ to complete the task. If the child is unable this is no fault of his, if he is unwilling this behaviour should not be tolerated. Use of visual prompts again reinforces your expectations. Rewards systems can be in place for ‘good’ behaviour, whilst it is also acceptable to ignore the poor behaviour if it is not too disruptive to the rest of the class. Some tactics for avoidance behaviour can be sorted out between all professionals engaged in working with the child. Working with positive role models is a good strategy to encourage appropriate behaviour.
Most children with Down’s syndrome educated in mainstream classes will have been allocated additional support. Usually these are Learning Support Assistants (LSA) or Classroom Support Assistants (CSA). Not all of the work undertaken by the child should be on a one to one basis. It is important for the child’s integration and emotional development for them to also be taught in small groups and whole class situations. The children need to be accepted as part of the class, not just an appendage. This will also help the child acquire the skills of independence.
There must be regular contact by all professionals engaged in helping the child so that a common approach can be coordinated. All teachers, LSA’s etc should be aware of the work to be undertaken by the child and the differentiated tasks to be undertaken. Communication with parents is vital to ensure that there is continuity between school and home
Teaching all children with learning disabilities is a challenge. However, if undertaken with care, the Down’s syndrome child can be a joy to work with, as is the way with most children. Inclusion is important for all children to feel a part of their community and for them to enjoy local friendship groups.