Tag Archives: Down’s Syndrome

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?

Down’s Syndrome – an Introduction

Down’s Syndrome is a genetic condition caused by the presence of an extra chromosome in the body’s cells.  Normally the nucleus of a cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, 23 inherited from the mother and 23 from the father.  In children with Down’s Syndrome, there is an extra copy of chromosome 21, meaning that there are in fact 47 (rather than 46) chromosomes in total.  It is the presence of the additional chromosome which disrupts normal cognitive and physical development.  The condition takes it name from the 19th century London physician John Langdon Down who first attempted to categorise and describe the condition. [see original paper]

Although there is a greater likelihood of advanced maternal age leading to a child being born with Down’s Syndrome, there is no scientific evidence to suggest what might cause the condition.  The rate of Down’s Syndrome births has remained constant in recent years at 1 per 1000 births.  The National Down Syndrome Cytogenetic Register has gathered data on the number of Down’s diagnoses and births since 1989 and reveals that overall diagnosis of the condition has risen by 71% over the past 20 years, from 1,075 in 1989 to 1,843 in 2008.   The data suggest that this rise in diagnosis is due to more women now delaying having a family till later in life than twenty years ago (research estimates that the risk for a 40-year-old mother is 16 times greater than that for a 25-year-old mother).  However the actual number of births of children with Down’s Syndrome has decreased (by 1%) over the same period due to the very high rate of terminations (92%).  Down’s Syndrome charities would argue that greater education of expectant mothers about the condition would lead to fewer such terminations.

In October 2011 the comedian Ricky Gervais angered many by making jokes about “mongs” (“Good monging” and “Two mongs don’t make a right” etc).  Mencap, the learning disability charity, called his comments “very disappointing” and following widespread public criticism, Gervais admitted that he was “naive” not to realise that the word was still used as an insult.  This admission came only after speaking to the mother of two children with disabilities, who sobbed as she discussed the issue on Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 show. [see article]

Children with Down’s Syndrome will all have learning difficulties but these will vary from mild to severe.  This contrasts with the widely held public perception that all children with Down’s Syndrome are alike.  In fact, children with Down’s Syndrome vary enormously, not just in their level of learning ability, but also in their personalities, likes and dislikes.  However there are several common physical characteristics of people with Down’s Syndrome such as a rounded face and flat profile, eyes which slant upwards at the outside, a small mouth, broad hands with stocky fingers, low muscle tone, a wider gap between their first and second toe and soft, straight hair.  In addition 50 % of children with Down’s Syndrome are born with visual/hearing impairment and 40% are born with heart defects.

Prior to 1971 in the UK all children with Down’s Syndrome were deemed “ineducable” and were often either kept at home or in long-stay hospitals with little educational stimulation.  Following the 1971 Education Act in the UK the education of all children (including for the first time children with Down’s Syndrome) became the responsibility of Local Education Authorities or Education and Library Boards.  Several years later the Warnock Report (1978) marked the beginning of the modern era of inclusion in education.  More recent legislation such as SENDO (2005) in Northern Ireland has strengthened the right of children and young people with any special educational needs (including children with Down’s Syndrome) to be educated in mainstream schools. Many children with Down’s Syndrome are now placed successfully in mainstream schools (with the support of a classroom assistant in most cases), with others being placed in special schools.  In Northern Ireland 69% of children with Down’s Syndrome are educated in special schools, but 25% are in mainstream primary schools and the remaining 6% are in mainstream post-primary schools.

See Down’s Syndrome Association website [click here]

Question for Cross-Border Discussion Forum:

In your experience, is the labelling of children/people with Down’s Syndrome (as in the recent “mong” jokes made by Ricky Gervais) simply a case of innocent “naivety” or evidence of an endemic and persistent prejudice against those who have this genetic condition?

Case Study: Down’s Syndrome

Two girls, Kathleen and Jennifer are both are now at High School, after successful transition. The two girls were very different personalities, one, Kathleen, much more compliant and more able than the other. The other girl, Jennfier, with a great sense of humour, also had a heart complaint, for which finally, after much fighting by the parents, she was able to receive surgery. She was kept in primary school an additional year, as she’d missed so much schooling due to ill health.

Both girls were visual learners, Jennifer was slow to speak and Makaton was used with her when she first came into Nursery. The school also used multisensory techniques and received much support from home. Things they found worked really well:

Image of two school girls

  1. A home / school book which went daily between home and school for passing information and saying what the child had been doing at home or school to enable them to key into things that had direct relevance to the child.
  2. Support from an able and well trained classroom assistant.
  3. A great deal of direct teaching. It was found that the teacher had to make all the connections for them. They would learn a skill, but be unable to transfer that skill to a different task unless they were shown the relationship.
  4. Very clear behaviour boundaries. If a thing was not allowed, it had to be not allowed in every situation. Jennifer particularly couldn’t understand that something was OK in one setting but not in another. For example, the school had to stop the lunchtime staff playing hide and seek with her because she thought it was OK to hide from the teachers and her mum at inappropriate times.
  5. Clear rewards and ‘punishments’. Some would call it bribery! for example, if Jennifer co-operated and did her jobs, then she was allowed to play with the guinea pig at school, or watch Animal Hospital at home. If she didn’t co-operate, then these things were withheld. A reminder of this mostly resulted in the desired response.