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How Do Children with Down Syndrome Benefit from Inclusion?
A study was done in 1999 which compared children with Down syndrome who were placed in the mainstream classroom with their peers in specialized settings. In the teenage years, language and literacy skills for mainstreamed students were significantly better than students removed to a special education setting. It was also discovered that negative behavior patterns were lower for mainstreamed students. (Buckley, 1999) This was a significant improvement over a similar study conducted in 1987, suggesting that as our inclusion strategies for children with down syndrome improve, so does the overall performance of the students.
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Physical Modification of the Classroom
For younger children with Down syndrome, desks and chairs will need to be evaluated to ensure good posture. A stool or platform can be used to ensure the feet have a place to rest if they do not reach the floor. A cushion in the chair seat can be used if the child doesn't sit tall enough in the chair. Pencil grips can be used to ensure proper grasp on writing utensils. Finally, modified scissors that are spring loaded are available for students who tire from the opening and closing of typical scissors.
More than half of children with Down syndrome suffer from spinal instability. Modification of physical education and recess activities may be necessary. Children with spinal instability should not participate in activities that will jar the spine, such as a trampoline.
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Location in the Classroom
Because children with Down syndrome often suffer from mild to moderate hearing loss, their placement in the classroom can be of particular importance. If hearing loss is a concern, ensure that children are located close to the teacher or para-educator to ensure instructions and lectures can be heard. Children also benefit from having an area where they can concentrate free from distraction. Be cautious to use this area only for testing and times of concentration, rather than using the area during lecture or normal classroom participation, otherwise the child may feel isolated.
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Helping the Child to Understand Classroom Instruction
Consider the vocabulary the child needs to understand and participate in classroom lessons. Introduce the vocabulary and the key concepts to the child prior to the lesson to ensure the child has the tools needed to learn. Also, the child’s current level of knowledge should be used to modify the curriculum and vocabulary used.
Children with Down syndrome tend to be visual learners. In addition to providing instruction and concepts orally, children will benefit from visual cues, pictures and diagrams. Allow children to repeat instructions to ensure they understand. It may be necessary to allow extra time for the child with Down syndrome to complete assignments or the assignment can be shortened to ensure completion.
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Children with Down syndrome are often sociable and learn by observing and mimicking the behaviors of their peers. Inclusion helps children to feel like part of a group and diminishes feelings of isolation. An activity of particular challenge to a student with Down syndrome can often be overcome by peer modeling. For a child that has difficulty with a task, allow the child to observe other children performing that task.
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Positive reinforcement works wonderfully for managing behaviors of children with Down syndrome. Make an effort to provide positive feedback for good behavior. Children should have consequences for negative behaviors clearly defined. Good communication between home and school can also be critical for the child with Down syndrome. A daily behavior report may be recorded in a journal or agenda. The report might also include information about the day's lessons to keep parents informed.
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Inclusion benefits children with Down syndrome through peer modeling and builds self-esteem, by reducing isolation. It also benefits children without Down syndrome by building awareness and acceptance for individual differences.