Teaching K-6 Special Needs Kids with Down Syndrome August 21 2009
A Passion for Helping Special Kids!
Teaching kids with special needs kids can be a truly rich and rewarding experience. But instructing young students with a special need such as Down syndrome also requires special teaching skills and tools!
Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring genetic condition. One in every 800 to 1,000 live births results in a child with Down syndrome. There are approximately 350,000 people in the U.S. who have Down syndrome, and about 5,000 to 6,000 births per year.
Most children with Down syndrome have mild-to-moderate cognitive delays. IQ is not an adequate measure of these kids’ functional status and kids with Down syndrome can lead full, rich lives and can be fully included in our society if given the right educational and development opportunities!
Based in Pasadena, California, Club 21 is a non-profit organization offering learning resources for children with Down syndrome, their families and teachers. “We have several programs which vary by age group. We also have workshops and consultations with occupational therapists and speech therapists,” says Nancy Litteken, Executive Director of Club 21.
Foundational Tools and Special Needs Skills Development
“Fostering the development of foundational skills essential to every child's academic and social development is one of the passions of Club 21,” Nancy says. Volunteer-staffed Club 21 helps Down syndrome students build confidence and additional skills through small communication groups, social skills classes, and assistive technology and computer literacy classes. The organization also offers enrichment programs including field trips, art, dance, music, martial arts, and other activities.
What Makes Down Syndrome Kids Different?
Down syndrome kids often have different educational needs, skill levels and abilities than other K-6 students, including:
- Need to learn at a slower pace or in a different format than their peers
- May have physical differences from their peers, including low muscle tone, chubby hands and arms and legs which are shorter relative to their torso length
- Medical conditions which may require special health care, medication and attention
Grass Roots Volunteerism Helps Special Needs Kids!
Club 21 is a completely volunteer-run group, which was started by mothers of children with Down syndrome 3 years ago. As a non-profit organization, Club 21 relies heavily on local volunteers. According to Litteken, “We have several programs which vary by age group. We also have workshops and consultations with occupational therapists and speech therapists.”
Together is Better is a new program Club 21 recently introduced to increase school support from volunteers. “These volunteers make curriculum adaptations to textbooks and computers in order to meet the needs of the students in the classroom,” says Litteken.
Model Compassion, Acceptance and Belief in Success
As classroom teachers, we need to model compassion, acceptance and belief in success. The students look at the way we treat others as a model to how they should treat people, including themselves. This is especially true when working with special needs students.
What words do we say when we describe people? What undertones and body language do we use? A teacher who models compassion, acceptance and faith in the students’ abilities is like of star in the darkness of night to all children, especially those with special needs.
Teachers with this kind of heart are the teachers we remember with love and admiration. The words these teachers say can stay with us throughout our life. These words and beliefs can guide us towards living to our fullest potential.
Special Needs Teaching Tools and Adaptations
For teachers instructing kids with Down syndrome, Litteken suggests a classroom focus on practical literacy skills in areas such as reading sight words, building decoding skills, increasing comprehension and fluency and applying reading knowledge to practical situations. These activities can all help increase general literacy levels for students with Down syndrome and other special needs.
Over the summer, Kathy McDaniel, Outreach Director for Club 21 contacted Teaching Resource Center for support, requesting a donation of several sets of our Two-sided, Write-On/Wipe-Off Lapboards. “Students with Down syndrome find it much harder to write a word onto paper than to use a dry erase board,” says McDaniel. “Being able to quickly erase a “wrong” word takes away the stigma that they have done something wrong.”
Helping with Resources and Adaptations for Inclusion
“White boards (lapboards) can be used to help students with spelling or math,” Nancy Litteken says. “For children with Down syndrome, low muscle tone is a big issue. Writing on paper takes strength, and this writing process can interfere with the lesson.”
However, the lapboard increases the student’s ability to focus on the lesson and his/her self confidence increases, because he/she can easily write and erase on a lapboard. Nancy shared ways Club 21 uses the lapboards and ways to make adaptations to instruction, including spelling drills and touch math:
- Modify spelling words by decreasing the number of words, writing the words bigger, including pictures of the words and making bigger lines to write the words on.
- “Use pictures & visual cues. Do not assume that the child knows what the words are, says Nancy. “For example, when my daughter asked me, ‘What are pads on dogs’ paws?’ I showed her pictures to explain, rather than just giving an auditory explanation”
- Writing a schedule on the white board using single words is more effective than writing multiple words or sentences. The child will tend to remember the very last part of the sentence. That’s why one word is more effective. You can also use pictures for instructions.
Teachers with special needs experience can offer each other (and parents of special needs students) a ton of support through networking and sharing your ideas, thoughts and knowledge. Please share the geographical location and URL’s of organizations in your area offering support for children & teachers in the classroom by leaving your comments below!