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School Visits

School Visits

Support for schools, parents and pupils
The therapy team at the Down Syndrome Centre provides school support through individualised school visits and education for teaching staff. During school visits, therapists advise teachers and SNAs regarding specific difficulties around inclusion, communication, and occupational participation to ensure a child is best supported in their educational placement.

Both our Occupational Therapists (OTs) and Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) may provide programmes for schools to support a child's goals. In schools, OTs assess and provide support around independence, seating, pre-writing and handwriting, motor skills, social interaction, and sensory needs. SLTs assess and provide support in the areas of attention and listening, receptive and expressive language skills, speech difficulties, and social communication.

The therapists at the DSC also provide generalised education to teaching staff about Down syndrome and how to best support a child with DS in the classroom.

Why It Is Important To Include Children With Down Syndrome In Mainstream Settings?

Children with Down syndrome have the right to be educated in their local school, and to be given appropriate support to enable them to access the curriculum and learn effectively. Attending mainstream school is shown to have better outcomes for children who have Down syndrome.

Inclusive education values diversity and each student's unique contributions to the classroom. It fosters a culture of respect and belonging. It also provides the opportunity to learn, from an early age to accept individual differences. By bringing students of all abilities together, inclusive education is helping to create understanding, shape attitudes and cultivate a higher level of respect for diversity.
Social inclusion in school is proven to reduce teasing, bullying, and the exclusion of any group of students. Students without disabilities hold more positive attitudes toward their peers with disabilities.

Research has shown that students with Down syndrome gain academic, social, and behavioural advantages from being educated with their typically developing peers. (Buckley et al. 2006).

Typical learning profile of a child who has down syndrome

  • Ability to learn and use sign, gesture and visual support.
  • Ability to learn using the written word.
  • Strong desire and ability to learn from their peers, to imitate and take their cue from them.
  • Strong visual awareness and visual learning skills.
  • Delayed motor skills, fine and gross – leading to clumsiness and manipulation difficulties.
  • Auditory and visual impairment – leading to hearing and sight loss.
  • Speech and language delay. Problems with articulation, comprehension and expression.
  • Poor short-term auditory memory and problems with consolidation and retention.

Short-term auditory memory (working memory) helps us understand language. We use this memory to hold, process and assimilate the spoken language. It influences the speed at which children learn new words and learn to read. Generally, long-term memory is not impaired, and neither is visual memory, which is often far stronger—difficulties with generalisations, thinking and reasoning.

Concentration is sometimes an issue. Children with Down syndrome are rarely lazy but often tire easily due to the pressure of work and effort required, lack of understanding of the task involved, the time of day, the amount of work already completed, lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep (maybe sleep apnoea) or other medical issues like thyroid, ear infections, chest infections or colds.

Teaching strategies for the student with Down syndrome

  • Visual Learners: pair pictures with spoken and written words, demonstrate, model, visual cues, kinaesthetic reinforcement, colour code and highlight.
  • Auditory memory and auditory processing is weak. Allow adequate response time.
  • Fewer short-term memory channels: Break down directions into smaller steps, repetition. Repeat, repeat, repeat, small chunks of information.
  • Literal learners: best to avoid slang, multiple-meaning terms.
  • Learns: at a slower rate than typical peers
  • Make sure that the child is sitting near the front of the classroom. Ensure the child is wearing their hearing aids if needed. Give the child the benefit of the doubt if they appear not to be listening. 80% of children with Ds have some form of hearing impairment at least some of the time.
  • Call the child by name when giving an instruction or asking a question.
  • Use a buddy system, so that the child with Down syndrome is not left behind just because they missed an instruction.
  • Pre-teach new material in a quiet setting, such as individual resource time.
  • Alert the parent if there seems to be a change. Reduced hearing is more evident in a noisy classroom than at home.
  • Accept that language is a significant difficulty and adjust your own language to compensate.
  • Use short, simple sentences.
  • Allow processing time: count to 10 before you say anything else!
  • Use positive sentences. It is much easier to understand “we walk in the corridor” than “don’t run in the corridor”. In the first sentence, the key word is WALK. In the second sentence, the key word is RUN.
  • Think about word order. “ We will go to the yard after you have finished your snack” will probably be understood as “yard, then snack” by a child who has difficulty processing language, leading to frustration all round!
  • Don’t give multiple instructions in one sentence. The child with Down syndrome is likely to pick up on either the first or the last and be oblivious to the others. ( You may think you don’t do this but—Ok everyone, time to finish your work, put your books in your bag, get in the line, we are going to the hall is actually 4 instructions)
  • Present materials visually. If the class is doing oral language work, give the child a list with a small number of key points that are mentioned repeatedly to listen out for (in words or pictures)
  • Use physical prompts or lists. If the child is going to fetch the paints, he is more likely to remember if he is carrying a paintbrush. Children with good literacy skills could bring a note with the word “paints” on it.
  • Practice! Working memory improves with practice. Play games where the children listen to 3 words and identify the odd one out.
  • Help children to develop their own strategies. This is likely to be a long-term problem, so learning to write (and use) a reminder or a list will be essential.
  • Use large print with good contrast (18-20pt font size, black on white).
  • Use good, clear, colourful pictures. Bold, saturated colours are better than pastels. Remember this applies when the child is writing as well as reading. The child who is writing with pencil may not be able to see what they have written and the pale blue lines in copy books are probably virtually invisible. A black marker pen on thick black lines is needed.
  • Be alert to changes in font size. For example, moving to more complex reading books often means smaller print. It’s easy to think the child has reached a plateau, when actually they are struggling to see the words.
  • Use marker pens, rather than pencils, so that the child doesn’t have to maintain downward pressure (And move on to typing relatively early)
  • Consult with one of our Occupational Therapists regarding seating etc. (If the child's attention is focused on balancing on a chair, it’s hard to learn!)
  • Take frequent movement breaks – fetching something from the office or back of the room, helping someone to find something. These are all unobtrusive movement breaks. The balance between “sitting and working” and “moving around” changes as children move up through the classes, but because motor development is slower in children who have Down syndrome, they may struggle to concentrate if they don’t have regular breaks.
  • Be aware of possible exhaustion. Tackle new concepts early in the day, leaving easier activities for when the child is tiring.
  • Have a few, favourite activities at hand for when the child is really not able to cope. In the early years, a quiet corner for a short nap might be helpful.
  • Give well-targeted, differentiated homework. If the child is already exhausted going home from school, they are unlikely to be able to complete lengthy homework.
  • Be aware that if a child has a cold, hearing is likely to be impacted.
  • Be observant and communicate any concerns promptly. Sometimes changes in energy, vision or hearing can be more evident in the classroom.

School Visit

For more information, or to book a School Visit for your child, email below

The Down Syndrome Centre is compliant with all regulatory requirements for care of children, clinical practice, teaching and governance. 

Memberships include: Down Syndrome International, the Wheel and the Charities Institute Ireland, from whom we have Triple-Lock status for fundraising, governance and financial management. 

We are registered with the Charities Regulator to whom we submit our annual report.

Charity Number: 20055158 
CHY: 15750
Sandyford Centre
Unit 3, 82 Furze Road,
Sandyford, Dublin 18 
D18 DP49
Swords Centre
Willowbrook House,
Balheary Road, Swords, Dublin 
K67 R8C6
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