Down syndrome is a genetic condition that occurs at conception. It occurs due to the division of chromosome 21, which is why Down syndrome is referred to as trisomy 21. Which means it is an extra copy of a chromosome. Down syndrome is not an illness and cannot be cured, and each person who has Down syndrome is different in physical features, health and intellectually. There is no known cause for Down syndrome and can happen to anyone world wide. “Down syndrome is the most common chromosome disorder that we know of. One in every 700-900 babies world wide will have Down syndrome. Although this number is lower in Australia.”(Down Syndrome Australia) Because no two people are the same the impact that having Down syndrome is also different however there will be an intellectual and development delay to some extent. Common differences to Down syndrome are a bent little finger, excess skin on the back of the neck, low muscle tone which can affect development physically plus swallowing and eating. Some other developmental experiences may be delayed, they can be physical delays such as sitting up and walking, short in stature and speech delay. Some people with Down syndrome can have heart and thyroid disease, hearing and eyesight problems. A student with Down syndrome that has health issues may need regular time off school for appointments which will impact on the education of that student. A student may also require reinforcement of rules and expectations to maintain correct behaviours. Due to physical development they may take longer to complete tasks such as eating lunch, going to the bathroom and general movement through out the class which can be disruptive to other students. Accommodations however have to be made to insure the needs of the student are being met.
A teacher aide can support the needs of a student that has Down syndrome under the guidance of the classroom teacher in many ways. A student may require assistance with following instructions if they are hearing impaired and an assistant can help the student with understanding with clear, simple and face to face instructions. The teacher aide can also assist with key word signing if language is delayed, prompting can also help. A teacher aide also has a responsibility to promote equality and diversity by encouraging the student’s interactions and inclusion in activities and games with other students by modelling correct and appropriate use of language, and educating students about peoples differences, similarities and needs will ensure the students have empathy and respect towards each other. Some adaptations to activities may be required depending on the students level of need, making small changes to assist in their fine and gross motor skills. Having larger paint brushes and pencils to help them grip and hold better, assisting with using scissors. Allowing extra time with running and have mats or cushioning on the ground if climbing or balancing activities.
A student with Down syndrome may require ongoing care and support from a number of specialists, these may include special education teachers, speech therapists, occupational therapists and physical therapists. A child’s physical and mental development will benefit greatly if they have intervention from specialists from a very early age. “ The early years lay the foundation for all future development. Recent scientific evidence shows that early experiences literally shape our lives by affecting the way the young brain develops. What happens to us in the early years has a major effect on our health and social development right through to adulthood.”(Down syndrome Australia)
A physical therapist will help a child to build strength and support motor skill development to enable the child to reach physical milestones such as rolling over, crawling and walking plus balance and co ordination which can be hindered by the low muscle tone that people with Down syndrome have. Speech therapy will help strengthen the muscles that help a child to chew, swallow and construct speech. They also help a child to not only speak clearly but to understand the words. An occupational therapist will assist with a child’s fine motor skill development, such as getting dressed, cleaning their teeth and writing. Occupational therapists also help to improve everyday functions and promote independence for the child. Special education teachers are called upon to work in collaboration with the other specialists and the classroom teacher to create a learning program that is tailored to meet the needs of the student by adapting the curriculum.
A teacher aide can demonstrate empathy and respect by caring and listening to the thoughts and feelings that the student may have. Asking open ended questions and questioning if they need assistance after allowing them to try, not just taking over and doing things for them for example opening a jar or cutting with scissors. Being positive in my own attitude towards the student and modelling respectful behaviours and communication is also a way to demonstrate respect and empathy. A student with Down syndrome will benefit from constructive praise especially with the good things they do, remembering rules of the class or a routine without being reminded or told. Assisting a child with Down syndrome with interactions and guiding them with appropriate conduct when playing with others, sharing games and equipment will encourage inclusion with their peers which is a boost for self esteem as well as developing their social skills. When a student shows improvement or try’s something new, being praised and encouraged will help to develop and increase their self-esteem. “ By providing opportunities for the student with Down syndrome to interact, learn and play with their peers will help them to build friendships which will in turn increase their self-esteem, problem solving skills and social skills. Having students learn or negotiate taking turns at using resources or playing games is extremely important in their development.”(Down syndrome guide, 2016)
There is so much equipment and resources available to help a student with Down syndrome. Equipment used will depend on the learning activity, computers and IT will help students as holding a pencil and forming letters can be difficult. Computers assist visual learners and non verbal students with Down syndrome. The computer programs used can be adapted to the learning needs of the student with literacy, forming sounds with letter combinations or matching pictures with words. Fine motor skills can be developed and assisted with activities such as threading coloured beads, this can also be a mathematical activity with counting and classifying the colours or beads. Between class activity rotations or to recognise breaks times the students on the teachers command may toss a cushion, small ball or bean bag to each other or into a bucket. This will also assist the student with Down syndrome with not only catching and motor skill development, but with peer interactions and understanding what is coming up next in the day. Classroom strategies such as having defined activity changes, bold bright coloured posters with rules and expectations for the students to follow and communicating with short sentences,clear language and appropriate facial expressions are ways to support a student. Allowing a student with Down syndrome to have extra time to finish exercises and answer questions. Assigning a ‘buddy’ to help the student if needed, or assigning specific jobs for the student to do, such as, handing out worksheets or lunch boxes from the fridge are all strategies that can assist a student with Down syndrome with either social interactions or class learning.
Modifications to activities can include; for a writing activity the student could type the words or use speak to text if their language is clear. For a mathematical activity using visual clues like 4 apples or 3 red cars can assist a student to understand the problem better. And for reading, an audio book if the student is beginning to read and then they can follow the words being said in the book, or having larger font and colourful books which will engage the student in the activity.
A student with Down syndrome is expected to follow and adhere to the same class and school rules as other students, and because of a students intellectual immaturity can sometimes find it difficult to follow but with simple rules given and reminding the students of the rules and even asking if they understand what is being asked for example ‘No speaking while the teacher talks’. Having a reward system can also be a way to encourage correct behaviour from all students not just the student with Down syndrome. Having visual reminders around the room for the student to see and reinforcing the expectations as well as using descriptive praise when the student does behave correctly; Well done Sophie for not calling out or for sitting quietly and patiently are a good way to set boundaries within the classroom and establish expectations.
To help a student with Down syndrome develop problem solving skills you can have activities with puzzles, role play games, painting, sharing resources with others and cooking and gardening. Problem solving skills are very important for cognitive development and asking open questions while engaging in these activities will help with the processing of information. For instance what are the steps that need to be taken to pot a plant; the right size pot, how much soil and when to water it.
For an inclusive and successful education to be achieved for a student there has to be a combined effort with regular communication between the parents, teacher, specialists and support workers. No two people with Down syndrome are the same, and any strategies, modifications and plans that are put in place need to be monitored regularly. Creating activities that encourage the student to learn and engages them with things that they like will help the student to develop and reach their learning goals.