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Help! My School-Age Child Has Down Syndrome

“My Down Syndrome Child is school age.  How can I support their education?”


     As a special education teacher of 39 years, I can tell you that the single best tool for educating my Down Syndrome students is their reaction to positive reinforcement!  If they know that you are pleased with them, they will give you the world on a silver platter!   With positive reinforcement, there is nothing to buy, it requires little to no training and can be used immediately.


     When you tell a typical child that they are doing a great job, most will smile and revel in the glory for a moment or two…..when you tell a Down Syndrome child “great job,” their entire world lights up and so does yours!  More often than not, you will get a warm, wonderful hug too!


     There are, of course, important, guidelines to remember when teaching a Down Syndrome child: 


     All lessons must be presented in a clear, ordered manner. When you’re looking at an entire unit, remember to break down each concept into small, measurable steps.  Keep directions simple and concise.  Focus on one activity at a time.  Most Down Syndrome children are visual learners, so pair auditory with visual, if at all possible. Hands-on materials are a must, as well.  For example, using teddy bear counters when performing addition and subtraction problems.


      When you are waiting for a response, be sure to give the child extra time to process what you have asked of them. Down Syndrome children are good at reading body language so while you are waiting for a response, remain calm and appear patient.  When they look at you for confirmation, before or after their response, give them a quiet, sincere smile as if you have all the time in the world for them.


     When possible, give your child a choice.  Children with Down Syndrome want very much to be independent, so foster that feeling as early on as you can.  It will mean the world to their confidence level and help foster a more easy-going, relaxed child. Many children with Down Syndrome want control of the situation,  so give it to them when you can.


     Teach your Down Syndrome child good listening skills from the very beginning. Asking them to repeat what you have just said is a good technique for strengthening listening skills.   Show them how to get into “learning position;” this means sitting up straight and keeping feet flat on the floor. (You may have to secure to stool for them to keep their feet on)  You will be surprised at how much more attentive they are when they are in “learning position.”  Remove all distractions around them when you are in teaching mode.  Know from the start of teaching a new concept that they will require more time to achieve mastery and even then, you will need to plan for consistent drill and practice.


     Make tasks fun and interesting, by using colorful materials and keeping the activity moving along.  Respond to in- correct answers with “try again,” rather than “no” or “wrong answer.”  If you feel your child getting frustrated, take a break or create closure to the task and end the session.


     A simple response to the child like, “Let’s practice some more later.” would be good to say.


     Above all, keep goals attainable but maintain high expectations. There’s a fine line between the two, I must admit.  Ask for help when you need it too!   Your child will work hardest for those that hold the bar high.  In my experience, students with Down Syndrome LOVE school and LOVE learning!


     I currently have a Down Syndrome student at my school and we are using the “*Skills Binder” with a lot of success!  Every morning, this student excitedly hands me her binder for me to see what she accomplished the evening before.  The confidence and pride with which she hands me the notebook is priceless and definitely begins the day on a bright note!


*See the explanation of the “Skills Binder” in my blog post here.