In the previous blog on Down syndrome we discussed strategies and accommodations for the classroom, including consistent behavior expectations, purposeful scheduling, frequent breaks, physical therapy strategies, and various instructional techniques. While Down syndrome affects a child’s physical, intellectual, and language development, there are truly more similarities than there are differences between students with Down syndrome and their typical classmates.
Below are additional strategies and important reminders for educators to ensure successful full inclusion in the classroom.
- Contrary to early beliefs, students with Down syndrome largely go on to be independent, seeking employment, relationships and families of their own. With varying degrees of support from person to person, the mindset around those who live with Down syndrome is changing. This is largely thanks to more inclusive practices and a better understanding of the unique strengths and contributions that people with Down syndrome offer.
- With this, it is important that teachers present a “can do” mindset in the classroom. Strengths for students with Down syndrome include memory, creativity, intellectual insight, reliability, dedication, and many other unique assets. By capitalizing on these traits, teachers can help to not only build self-esteem for the student, but also encourage understanding and acceptance among peers. Teachers can build the inclusivity in the classroom by providing genuine praise and acknowledgment of the student’s successes. If art is a strength, frame and hang the work as recognition. If the student shows perseverance or dedication, praise his or her grit. If a student offers a new way of approaching a problem or task, highlight his or her perspective for other students to recognize an alternate way of thinking. All of these examples help to strengthen the classroom culture and affirm everyone’s capabilities and contributions.
- Teachers should be sure to validate a student’s feelings or varied emotions. It is a common misconception that children and teens with Down syndrome present either a flat affect or consistent happiness and contentment no matter the circumstances. This is simply false; people with Down syndrome experience emotions just like everyone else. They often respond intuitively to others’ feelings as well.
- Just like with every child, teachers should offer students a chance to calm down, take a breather, or settle with a walk in the hall or a drink of water when they become overwhelmed or upset. Once a child has had a private opportunity to get composed, it is important that he or she hear validation. Teachers can ask what happened prior to them becoming upset; in what way could the situation have been handled differently/better; what are they feeling or what do they need now that the situation has de-escalated?
- It is also a good practice to involve parents when emotions become a consistent matter during the school day. Ask about sleeping and eating habits, coping or self-soothing strategies at home, and any sensitive topics or triggers to avoid that may easily upset the student.
- Educators should be sure to keep the challenges coming. While students with Down syndrome often learn at a slower pace, they are lifelong learners just like everyone else. There is no limit to the amount that they can learn. A good strategy for encouraging growth is to practice reflection when learning new and difficult concepts. Allow students to share what was most difficult about the new skill or concept. Ask how or when they could have used more supports. Have students reflect on the different steps they took when approaching the challenge. All of these questions provide insight, not only for the teacher, but for the learner moving forward with the next challenge or obstacle.
Students with Down syndrome often thrive when given leadership roles. Because of their determination and reliability, these learners offer unique strengths in the classroom, including some strengths that may be common challenges for their typical peers. Depending on age and ability, teachers should consider offering students with Down syndrome the opportunity to collect the class homework, write on the Smartboard, lead the Pledge of Allegiance, pass out books/materials, etc. Leadership roles help to foster confidence and build community and allow students to build other skills, such as organization, time management and patience.