Inclusive education for individuals with Down syndrome
Inclusion in education – the benefits and keys to success
Hughes J. Inclusive education for individuals with Down syndrome. Down Syndrome News and Update. 2006;6(1);1-3.
Changes over the past thirty years have brought access to education for
children with special needs. In more recent years, there has been slow but
steady development of inclusive education for children with Down syndrome. With
supportive legislation to help schools provide the resources necessary to meet
special educational needs, more children are being educated in their local
school settings. Research indicates that appropriate education provided in
inclusive settings offers the best opportunities for children with Down
Research findings from studies comparing children who have been educated in
special schools and classrooms indicate that it is difficult to provide optimal
learning environments in such schools or classrooms. One particular study done
in 2000 compared the achievements of teenagers of similar ability and family
background educated in special schools and mainstream settings. The study showed
significant educational benefits for teenagers who had been through mainstream
education with 25-30 hours of additional learning support assistance.
The teenagers who had been fully included in mainstream classes showed gains of
more than 2 years in spoken language skills and 3 years in reading and writing
ability on standardised measures. These measurements of 'years' for typically
developing children would equate to 4 and 6 year gains for children with Down
syndrome, as they usually progress at about 5 months per year in these measures.
In addition, there were gains in maths skills, general knowledge and social
independence. There were no differences in personal independence or social
contacts out of school between the teenagers educated in special and mainstream
classes, and a tendency for the mainstream students to have better behaviour.
This study is described in full in "A comparison of mainstream and special
education for teenagers with Down syndrome: implications for parents and
teachers", by Sue Buckley, Gillian Bird, Ben Sacks and Tamsin Archer, published
in Down Syndrome News and Update.
Implications of the research on inclusive education
Speech and language gains
Children with Down syndrome who are educated in their mainstream school settings
with appropriate support show significant language gains over time, in both
structure and clarity. The importance of speech and language development for
cognitive and social development can not be overemphasised. Words and sentences
are the building blocks for mental development â€“ we think, reason and remember
using spoken language. Words provide the main source of knowledge about the
world. Speech and language skills influence all aspects of social and emotional
development â€“ the ability to negotiate the social world and to make friends,
share worries and experiences and be part of the family and community.
Access to the curriculum alongside peers
Full inclusion in the curriculum leads to much better literacy and numeracy
skills, and general knowledge. The level of supported literacy experience across
the curriculum also provides important support for spoken language development.
Optimal learning environment
Children with Down syndrome need to learn with their non-disabled peers with the
necessary individual support to make this successful. Research indicates that it
is difficult to provide a maximally effective learning environment in a special
education classroom. Children learn from their peers so watching and
participating in the curriculum alongside their typically developing peer group
will provide learning opportunities throughout the day. Expectations in the
classroom are higher in mainstream schools. The classroom curriculum is set for
the mainstream children and their learning provides role models for literacy and
language for the child with Down syndrome.
Parents and teachers need to do more to ensure that friendships with
non-disabled peers carry on outside of school. An improvement in understanding
and support for teenagers and adults with Down syndrome in their homes,
workplaces, shops and leisure activities could be one of many positive results
Children with Down syndrome in mainstream schools also need more opportunities
to socialise with a peer group of children with similar levels of intellectual
disability. This can be achieved by ensuring that children with Down syndrome
have friends with similar disabilities in or outside of school.
Although children with Down syndrome have additional educational needs, they
also have many of the same needs as the other non-disabled pupils of their age.
They will make the most rapid progress if they are fully socially included and
accepted, benefiting from age appropriate role models and from the benefits of
feeling that they are part of the ordinary community. This social acceptance
will have a profound effect on self-confidence, self-identity and self-esteem â€“
if the whole school community is one that is caring and supportive to all its
For achieving successful inclusion in school, the most important predictor of
success is staff attitude. The staff must feel positive about inclusion and
believe that the child should be in their school.
Whole school responsibilities include:
- valuing diversity
- the importance of positive attitudes and setting the framework for inclusion â€“
understanding why the pupil is in your school, your class, and how the pupil
will progress through school
- organising management responsibilities for planning and support systems,
including making resources
- proactive involvement of parents, carers, and services
- positive approach to problem-solving.
Planning for the individual child:
- learn about the specific profile and effective interventions for pupils with
- learn about the pupil's understanding, skills and strengths
- learn about the times and situations in the school day that are more difficult
to manage successfully â€“ for the pupil, peers and staff
- use the pupil's strengths to support successful learning and development e.g.
social strengths, learning with peers
- adapt and plan, as necessary, for the individual â€“ using the curriculum for
age peers as your starting point
- be flexible, but also cautious about interventions that do not have a clear
- share adaptations with partnership services and parents.
Applying the typical profile:
- strengths as visual learners
- learning from listening is difficult
- reducing speech and language demands
- reducing literacy demands â€“ support for reading and recording
- reducing motor demands â€“ mounting work into scrapbooks, increasing text size
- reducing sustained attention demands and building on memory skills
- good awareness of social and emotional cues; use of reward and praise
- good social learners; learning from peers through observation and imitation.
Promoting effective learning skills:
- meaningful activities based on pupil's experience
- visual resources and approaches to aid comprehension of abstract concepts and
- new activities based on existing skills
- small steps with opportunities for practice
- applying skills in different contexts, situations.
Differentiation and individualised learning:
- IEP targets â€“ specific outcomes for the child across different curriculum
areas over a short period of time
- Some learning may take place in a 1:1 setting â€“ all children could benefit
from some 1:1 time.
(Note that too much individualised learning can reduce exposure to
age-appropriate models of behaviour/language and opportunities for
student-student interaction. It can lead to social exclusion and the pupil
feeling 'different' from the class. It is also very demanding for the pupil and
the assistant to work 1:1 for long periods.)
Inclusion will work differently for each school and for each individual child.
What works for one may not work for another. A flexible approach needs to be
adopted so that successes can be celebrated and changes can be made for those
areas where the outcomes were less favourable. As with most things, we can all
learn from each others' experiences.
If we wish to make a difference to the life experiences of children and adults
with disabilities, all children need to grow and learn together. Neighbours,
friends and workmates of adults with disabilities will then have the opportunity
to value the person first, to realise that everyone has strengths and weaknesses
and that everyone has a contribution to make to a caring society. Developing
caring, inclusive communities improves the quality of life of all members of the
1. Buckley, S., Bird, G., Sacks B. and Archer T. (2002). A comparison of
mainstream and special education for teenagers with Down syndrome: Implications
for parents and teachers. Down Syndrome News and Update, 2(2), 46-54.
Education for individuals with Down syndrome â€“ An overview (2000). Sue Buckley
and Gillian Bird. Down Syndrome Issues and Information, The Down Syndrome
Accessing the curriculum â€“ Strategies for differentiation for pupils with Down
syndrome (2000). Gillian Bird, Sandy Alton and Cecilie Mackinnon. Down Syndrome
Issues and Information, Down Syndrome Education International.
Inclusion and how to do it: Meeting SEN in Primary Classrooms (includes CD)
(2004). Sue Briggs. David Fulton Publishers.
Inclusion and how to do it: Meeting SEN in Secondary Classrooms (includes CD)
(2004). Sue Briggs. David Fulton Publishers.
First Steps in Inclusion, a handbook for parents, teachers, governors and LEAs
(2002). Stephanie Lorenz. David Fulton Publishers.
Index for inclusion â€“ developing learning, participation and play in early years
and childcare (2004). Tony Booth and Mel Ainscow. Centre of Studies on Inclusive
Index for inclusion â€“ developing learning and participation in schools
(2000).Tony Booth, Mel Ainscow, Kristine Black-Hawkins, Mark Vaughan and Linda
Shaw. Centre of Studies on Inclusive Education.
A comparison of mainstream and special education for teenagers with Down
syndrome: Implications for parents and teachers (2002). Sue Buckley, Gillian
Bird, Ben Sacks and Tamsin Archer. Down Syndrome News and Update, 2(2), 46-54.
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