Helping special kids achieve

Suitable teaching methods essential for Down’s syndrome children

THIS weekend as the world – and South Africa – mark World Down’s Syndrome Day, a Port Elizabeth early education specialist gives parents pointers on how to help children with the syndrome.In December 2011, the UN General Assembly declared March 21 a day to raise public awareness of Down’s syndrome, a naturally occurring chromosomal arrangement that has always been a part of the human condition.

Early Inspiration founder Dr Lauren Stretch, who is an early childhood development specialist, says children with Down’s syndrome learn and progress slower than most other children.

“However, not all areas of development are equally affected. By understanding how development and learning differs for children with Down’s syndrome you can devise more effective teaching approaches and therapies,” Stretch said.

She suggests beginning with their relative strengths, in the following areas:

  • Social development

Babies with Down’s syndrome look at faces and smile a week or two later than other children.

Infants with Down’s syndrome enjoy communicating and make good use of non-verbal skills including babbling and gesture.

Most individuals with Down’s syndrome develop good social skills, though a minority may develop difficult behaviours, particularly if they have experienced great delay in language development.

  • Visual learners

Research suggests that people with Down’s syndrome are visual learners, especially within the acquisition of language, motor and literacy skills.

As such, information should be presented with the support of pictures, gestures and objects.

  • Word reading

Some children with Down’s syndrome can develop reading abilities, more advanced than expected for their cognitive and language levels. Reading is an important contribution to vocabulary and language development for all children and is of particular benefit for Down’s syndrome children.

Stretch says common characteristic difficulties to be aware of include:

  • Motor development

Slower motor development reduces their opportunities to explore and learn about the world around them, having a direct impact on cognitive development.

  •  Language, grammar and speech clarity

Down’s syndrome children will have expressive language that is delayed relative to their language comprehension. They experience two types of expressive difficulty: delay in mastering sentence structures and grammar, and specific difficulties in developing clear speech production.

The gap between understanding and the ability to express themselves can be highly frustrating and can lead to behaviour problems, and/or the child’s cognitive abilities being underestimated.

Stretch says language delay results in cognitive delay, as people learn through language, and language is utilised for thinking, remembering and self-organisation.

  • Numbers

Most Down’s syndrome children struggle with basic number skills. The best advice is to draw on what is known about the child’s learning strengths and to use visual teaching systems to convey number concepts.

  • Verbal short-term memory

The ability of children with Down’s syndrome to retain and process verbal information is not as good as their ability to hold and process visual information. This makes it more difficult for them to learn new words.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of using visual supports when teaching and stimulating children with Down’s syndrome, as it makes full use of their stronger visual memory skills,” Stretch says.

-The Herald Reporter

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