Classroom adjustments: Fragile X syndrome
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 discuss adjustments teachers make in the classroom to support students with Fragile X syndrome. A genetic condition, Fragile X syndrome is characterised by intellectual disability resulting in lifelong implications. This condition is rarer in girls than it is in boys. Students with Fragile X syndrome will experience a number of learning difficulties. Some students may have developmental issues including delayed speech, while others may exhibit behavioural problems such as repetitive actions and difficulty socialising. Processing sensory information can also be challenging for students with Fragile X syndrome.
11-year-old student Jimmy says that he loves books. When he needs a break, his favourite thing is to sit on the giant cushions that have been strategically placed in his classroom. Jimmy’s mum Sarah explains that while Jimmy is a happy-go-lucky boy, he struggles with sensory processing and changes in routines. Specialist school teacher Jack Pitts explains how providing students who have Fragile X syndrome with a variety of forms of communication can assist with their understanding. Occupational Therapist Beverley Kadish shares her top tips on helping students learn to self-regulate, and reducing anxiety in the classroom.
Top five takeaways
- Students with Fragile X syndrome are likely to have communication and comprehension barriers. So, it’s important not to rely solely on verbal interactions and instructions. Visuals are an effective tool that can assist with learning. Use visual schedules on a daily basis to outline key things that will take place throughout the school day, from what subjects will be covered to scheduled bathroom breaks. Preparing students for upcoming transitions can help to reduce their anxiety. Also, visuals can be used to outline step-by-step instructions so students can see what they need to do next.
- When giving instructions, show students what you want them to achieve. Once you show them the end result and they can see the bigger picture, chunk the task into small segments and demonstrate how to get the same outcome using a checklist. Give one-step instructions and cross off each item from your list as the student completes the corresponding task. Before moving on to the next task, allow the student adequate time to process your instructions, as students with Fragile X syndrome may require extra response time.
- Students with Fragile X syndrome may find handwriting difficult. To help build basic handwriting skills, you can different strategies, such as using modified pencils with stoppers at the end or the co-active writing technique, where students place their hands over the top of yours while you guide them through the letters. You can also use sensory tactile techniques where you might ask the student to write letters in something like shaving cream.
- Most students with Fragile X syndrome will have some level of difficulty in sensory processing. It is important to do an environmental check of the classroom and take steps to reduce levels of noise and visual overload. Further to this, ensure that the student is not seated in high traffic areas, such as near doorways or open windows. Also, position them away from air-conditioners and heaters and if required, provide the student with noise-cancelling headphones.
- Students with Fragile X syndrome may experience anxiety. To help reduce anxiety levels, allow the student time to regulate their emotions and provide a safe space in which they can self-regulate. This might involve sitting on a bean-bag or some cushions, or sitting inside a small tent, a large box, or a quiet corner of the library. Some students may want to play with sensory items or listen to music. Allow them to choose the activity that is going to help them settle down, but set time limits, so they know when they are expected to return to the learning environment.
- What steps can I take to make sure transitions in the classroom do not induce anxiety for a student with Fragile X syndrome?
- How can I ensure that a student with fragile X syndrome doesn’t experience difficulties with sensory processing in my classroom?
- How do I adjust my teaching style to ensure a student with Fragile X syndrome comprehends my instructions?
- Why is it crucial to use visuals when teaching a student with Fragile X syndrome?
- What creative approaches can I use to help a student with Fragile X syndrome to improve their handwriting?
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Approximately 25 minute run time.
Jack Pitts, Teacher, Ballarat Specialist School
Beverley Kadish, Paediatric Occupational Therapist
Jimmy, 11-year-old student
Sarah, Jimmy’s mum
Thanks also to
Wendy Bruce, Executive Director, Fragile X Association of Australia Inc
Serpil Senelmis, Written & Recorded
James Brandis, Written & Recorded
Find further resources at Fragile X Association of Australia, Raising Children Network and the NCCD Portal. Download a transcript of the podcast episode.
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