Down syndrome is the most common form of all chromosomal abnormalities. According to globaldownsyndrome.org, this disorder is the number one cause of intellectual and developmental delay in the world. With such statistical significance, it is surprising how little is known about the cause of Down syndrome. One thing that is widely known, however, is the importance of inclusion for children with Down syndrome. Since inclusion proves to be a benefit to students with Down’s and their general education peers, it is essential for educators to know the best practices and methods for implementing beneficial strategies for teaching and learning.
- With input from parents and the rest of the IEP team, teachers should set the same behavioral expectations for all students, including those with Down syndrome. When holding all students to the same expectations, students with Down’s and their typically-performing peers see that there are no exceptions to the standards of the classroom—everyone is held to the same guidelines. This also helps to build a positive rapport among students, thus strengthening the classroom environment and allowing students with special needs to feel like full participants in the classroom.
- Since processing time, memory, and focus may all begin to decline due to fatigue towards the end of the school day, organize classwork and activities so that the most rigorous are in the earlier part of the day. Parents and teachers will want to work together to schedule the more difficult academic courses for the beginning of the day, leaving the afternoon for a less intense course load.
- Changes in the routine or schedule, such as special school events or field trips, have the potential to drain students with Down’s both cognitively and physically. Overstimulation with such events or activities can cause fatigue as well. Teachers should speak with parents about how to best plan for days in which physical activities are plentiful. Teachers may also want to incorporate small, frequent breaks throughout these busier days.
- Hypotonia, or decreased muscle tone, is commonly seen in children with Down syndrome. The lack of muscle tone makes certain daily functions and activities both tiring and frustrating. Teachers should plan to speak with the child’s physical therapist to identify physical goals and how skills can also be strengthened in the classroom. With tedious tasks such as writing, tracing, drawing, etc., educators should plan for extended time and frequent breaks.
- A common misconception among students with Down syndrome is their basic level of cognitive functioning. Often, their receptive intelligence and expressive intelligence differ, meaning that they understand far more than they are able to demonstrate. When checking for understanding, teachers should be careful to ask direct, specific questions. Avoid nuanced topics, sarcasm, and abstract concepts.
- Provide opportunities for students to visualize a skill or concept. Modeling a process is also beneficial, since many students with Down syndrome are visual learners. When possible, teachers should provide visual or written step-by-step instructions to a multistep activity. Repeat the instructions and simplify directions by including only the pertinent information.