Down Syndrome is a developmental condition caused by a difference in the number of chromosomes that a child has. Chromosomes are packets of genes that determine how a person develops in the womb and grows after they are born. People with Down Syndrome have an extra chromosome 21, which changes their mental and physical development. People with Down Syndrome share a lot of physical characteristics including a flattened face, short neck, and small ears. It is very common for Down Syndrome to cause challenges with motor skills, language, and speech.
Down Syndrome accounts for 15 – 20% of intellectually disabled people in the UK. So, in an SEN school, it is likely that you will have at least one child with Down Syndrome in your class. Working with a child with Down Syndrome can be very difficult for teachers. However, there are specific teaching strategies for children with Down Syndrome. Understanding how best to provide SEN support is crucial if you want them to thrive and get the education they deserve.
What is SEN Support in Schools?
SEN (special educational needs) support in schools is there to assist children with disabilities and learning issues. This does not just cover children with Down Syndrome, it refers to a wide range of different conditions that make it more difficult for children to learn and engage in a standard classroom setting. SEN support aims to understand and meet the specific needs of these children. Usually, this involves different approaches to learning in the classroom so teachers can overcome the challenges faced by the children.
How to Support Down Syndrome Children
Every child is different and teachers must learn to understand the personality and unique challenges of all of their students. However, there are some key things to keep in mind when teaching children with Down Syndrome.
1. Have patience
Patience when working with special needs is crucial. Children with Down Syndrome have a developmental disability, which makes it much harder for them to learn and retain new information. They will find it especially difficult to understand complex ideas and learn new words.
Repetition is one of the most effective techniques for a child with Down Syndrome. Repeating ideas to them will help to commit them to memory, and getting them to repeat things back to you will help them learn new words and practise their speech skills. This can be quite monotonous for teachers, so it’s vital that you are patient with them and you don’t become frustrated, even if things need to be repeated a lot of times.
2. Use a lot of visual learning techniques
Children with Down Syndrome respond better to visual aids for learning. It is difficult for them to read and comprehend large blocks of text, but images and videos will help them commit information to memory far easier. Use lots of charts and colourful wall displays, and always include images and diagrams on handouts. Videos with captions on them are excellent too. They will absorb the information much better from a video, but they can still practise their language skills from the captions at the same time.
When you do need them to read passages of text, highlight specific words or phrases that are important to help them work through it. Break up the text with images too, so it is not too overwhelming. You can also put small images in the margins next to difficult words, to teach them what they mean.
3. Use the right language
When speaking about a person with Down Syndrome, it is important that you refer to them in the right way. Singling them out because of their disability is unfair and it can seriously knock their confidence. You should always put the person before the disability.
Use person-first language for Down Syndrome. Instead of saying ‘Down Syndrome student,’ say ‘student with Down Syndrome.’ There is an important difference between the two terms and it’s something that people will pick up on. Be aware of the subtle distinctions in language and how they can create barriers for people with disabilities. Make sure that other students in your class recognise this too.
4. Set reachable goals
Goal setting is an excellent way to encourage children in the classroom and track their progress. But when working with a child with Down Syndrome, you need to set reachable goals so they don’t get disheartened. Bear in mind that it takes longer for them to retain information, so celebrate the small wins. An example of speech therapy goals for Down Syndrome students is to learn one new phonic sound each week. You should also create tasks and goals that play to their strengths, so you can guarantee progress and boost their confidence.
Focus on helping them improve their social skills too. Children with Down Syndrome already have good social skills, but helping them improve them further will enhance their classroom experience. Encourage them to work alongside other children and learn from them to supplement the support you give them.
5. Forget stereotypes
There are some damaging Down Syndrome stereotypes that make it more difficult to support children in the classroom. It is a common misconception that children with Down Syndrome are always happy and loving. The reality is, that they have emotions just like any other child and they’ll have good days and bad days.
In the classroom, this stereotype can mean that children with Down Syndrome are overlooked when they are struggling emotionally. The teacher assumes that they’ll be fine, even if they are struggling. It’s important that you put these stereotypes aside and treat them as an individual with their own emotions and personality. This allows you to connect with the child more effectively and adapt to their needs in the classroom.
Teaching children with Down Syndrome is a challenge, but it’s incredibly rewarding. It takes a certain type of person with patience and adaptability to do the job well. If you think that’s you and you want to put the techniques in this article into practice, view our list of SEN teaching jobs.
We specialise in helping people find the perfect SEN teaching roles, so submit a CV today and we can support you in your new career.