Down’s Syndrome – Classroom strategies

Although there is considerable variation among individual children, the most common educational implications for children with Down’s Syndrome are as follows:

  • Strong visual awareness and visual learning skills
  • Desire and ability to learn from peers
  • Delayed gross and fine motor skills (with subsequent difficulty with writing, using scissors etc)
  • Hearing and visual impairment is common
  • Speech and Language delay affecting comprehension and expression
  • Poor short term auditory memory
  • Short attention span.


Strategies for working with children with Down’s Syndrome

  1. Create an inclusive school/classroom climate.  Given the growing number of children with Down’s Syndrome now in mainstream schools, it is fundamentally important  that there is a positive attitude towards Down’s Syndrome and other special educational needs throughout the school community.  Recent research has stressed that inclusion should be less about the physical location of the child (whether in mainstream or special education) and more about the degree to which the child is socially integrated in their educational context.  As Warnock herself noted in 2005, for many children with special educational needs, inclusion is too often experienced as a “painful form of exclusion”.
  2. Liaise closely with parents.  Many special schools operate a home/school diary system where parents and teachers are able to note down information and report on progress on a daily basis.  This is less frequently seen in mainstream schools but represents a valuable and very convenient way of sharing information regularly with those who know the children best.
  3. Refer closely to the child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP).  All children with Down’s Syndrome will have an IEP and it is a teacher’s responsibility to be aware of the targets set for the individual child and to adapt their teaching to reduce the barriers to learning experienced by the child.  The IEP should be reviewed on a regular basis and the classroom teacher should be given every opportunity to take part in the review of any targets set.
  4. Use classroom assistants effectively.  Too often classroom assistants are under-utilised by busy classroom teachers.  The classroom assistant should act as the bridge between the child and the curriculum but also between the child and the teacher through liaison and regular communication.  With the support of a classroom assistant a child with Down’s Syndrome should be able to learn alongside their peers, and should be given every opportunity to form meaningful friendships with peers, free (where possible) of adult interference.  The aim of the work of the classroom assistant should be to promote an appropriate level of working independence for the child with Down’s Syndrome.
  5. Promote language development.  Often children with Down’s Syndrome will struggle especially in this area.  Teachers should therefore place the child near the front of the classroom, speak directly and clearly to the pupil, and use simplified language accompanied by visual reinforcement where possible.  Children with Down’s Syndrome will often enjoy reading but will struggle with writing due to their weak fine motor skills and low muscle tone.
  6. Don’t give up on numeracy.  Children with Down’s Syndrome will often find the acquisition of numeracy skills particularly challenging and will be slow to acquire basic mathematical concepts such as same/different, classification, cardinal/ordinal and conservation.  It is important to make lessons short and appealing, with an emphasis on numeracy in everyday contexts (such as using money).  It is also important to consolidate and reinforce previous learning, with a concentration on basic skills and an understanding of basic mathematical language.
  7. Reinforce positive behaviour.  The most common form of misbehaviour among children with Down’s Syndrome is behaviour which aims at gaining attention.  There may however also be frustration arising from their inability to cope with the level of the work given to them in class.  As a teacher, ensure that you give attention only when the child’s behaviour is appropriate and ensure too that the work planned for the child is at an appropriate level.  Always have high behavioural expectations for the child with Down’s Syndrome (as per any child) and provide opportunities for the child to interact and develop friendships with peers, teaching them to share and take turns.  There is often a degree of social immaturity but teachers should reinforce basic rules, especially at the start of the year when habits are formed.

 Question for Cross-Border Discussion Forum. 

What have been your experiences to date of working with children/young people with Down’s Syndrome in schools?  What have been the challenges… and the opportunities?