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Helping Children With Down Syndrome To Succeed In The Classroom

written by: •edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch•updated: 3/9/2012

Children with Down syndrome typically experience delays in cognitive development, but with proper support, they are able to participate in a mainstream classroom environment. Educators can encourage inclusion and personal success for these students by using these Down syndrome teaching tips.

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    Characteristics Of Children With Down Syndrome

    Down syndrome, also known as trisomy 21, is a genetic disorder that is characterized by mild to severe deficits in cognitive and physical functioning. Children with Down syndrome have a high risk of developing medical problems such as poor vision and hearing loss. They also struggle with motor skills due to low muscle tone and academic performance due to poor memory and learning capacities. Down syndrome children often tend to exhibit behavioral issues such as a lack of motivation and the inability to focus on tasks.

    Though the degree to which some or all of these traits affect a child with Down syndrome varies significantly, students with this disorder will require special education support in school. Most often, these students are able to attend traditional schools and participate in a general education classroom for at least part of the day. When teaching children with Down syndrome, both special and regular education instructors as well as support staff should promote an inclusive atmosphere. Teachers who are inexperienced in working with Down syndrome children can help these students achieve their best potential for school success by following a few simple strategies.

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    Down Syndrome Children In School

    These Down syndrome teaching tips can be implemented in both small and large classroom environments, depending on a student's placement as determined by the IEP team:

    --Teachers can benefit greatly from learning about the specific challenges faced by a Down syndrome student prior to the start of the school year. The child will be accompanied by a trained aide when participating in a mainstream classroom, and both the aide and the child's parents can provide a teacher with helpful information.

    --Because children with Down syndrome are prone to distraction and easily frustrated by lengthy instructions, teachers should be certain that the student is seated toward the front of the classroom in an area that is free from clutter and potential diversions. In-class and homework assignments will need to be modified according to the child's academic abilities, and tasks should be broken down into small steps that the student can understand clearly.

    --Teachers should encourage inclusion by providing Down syndrome children with statements of positive reinforcement whenever appropriate. These children should be treated in the same manner as the other students in the classroom and never made to feel stigmatized as a result of their physical or cognitive differences.

    --Children with Down syndrome will often receive additional supports from speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists during the school day. Teachers should communicate regularly with members of support staff so that they can be fully informed of a student's progress and individual IEP goals.

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    Conclusion

    The experience of teaching children with Down syndrome is challenging yet rewarding. Teachers can further prepare by participating in training classes designed for adults who will have regular contact with Down syndrome students.