This podcast is part of a series that highlights adjustments that can be made in the classroom to enable students with disability to access and participate in education on the same basis as their peers.
In this episode, we talk about common adjustments teachers make in the classroom to support students with Down syndrome. A genetic chromosome disorder, Down syndrome results in some level of intellectual disability ranging from mild to severe. Students with the condition will have developmental delays and a variety of learning challenges. However, the difficulties students are likely to experience will vary among individuals, and can range from a lack of executive functioning and poor memory to an inability to follow instructions.
Eleven-year-old Kura loves playing soccer and singing, but he says he finds school can be tiring and he needs breaks. His mum Alicia explains how the social aspect of school is just as important as classroom learning for the development of a student. Maths teacher Janine McGrath talks about how every lesson needs to be supported by visual cues to enhance comprehension. Director of the Down Syndrome Research Program at the University of Queensland, Rhonda Faragher busts some commonly held myths about Down syndrome.
Top five takeaways
Students with Down syndrome will need brain breaks throughout the day, so ensure that you schedule these into your routine. Make it a whole-of-class activity, or at least use a buddy system so the student does not feel singled out.
Most, but not all, students with Down syndrome will have poor working memory. Their ability to remember what’s been said beyond a few instructions is vastly reduced. To help students recall and retain key concepts and understand the lesson, accompany your verbal instructions with visual cues. Using diagrams, images and other visual supports, such as written text, to explain the lesson in a graphic manner will help a student commit new information to memory.
Most students with Down syndrome will have difficulty following long instructions or referencing a textbook. Modify your instructions so you are introducing a few ideas at a time. Also use shorter sentences to explain your lesson, and build in plenty of repetition to give the student ample opportunity for consolidation and practice. Importantly, before you move on to your next set of ideas and instructions, ensure you have given the student enough processing time by checking for understanding.
Around 80 per cent of students with Down syndrome will have conductive hearing loss, so it’s important to make environmental adjustments. Do a scan of your classroom and identify aspects that are likely to create noise, such as tiles. Take steps to eliminate loud or echoey sounds using carpet, mats and other sound-absorbing materials.
Consider where you position the student with Down syndrome in your classroom. It’s advisable to seat students with Down syndrome away from the door, as some students with Down syndrome can tend to run away if they find the lesson challenging. You can use a buddy system or implement small group work so the student continues to be engaged in their own work, alongside their peers. However, if the student requires a break on their own, ensure that you have a space in the classroom like a beanbag that they can retreat to.
How do I know if I’ve got my level of scaffolding right for a student with Down syndrome?
What kind of technological tools can assist a student with Down syndrome in their use of fine motor skills?
What steps can I take to help reduce the student’s level of fatigue?
How should I adjust the way I deliver instructions and my overall lesson to enable a student with Down syndrome to understand and retain what’s being discussed?
Why do I need to build visual supports into every lesson?