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Integration of Children with Down Syndrome into Mainstream Classrooms

Dr. Kawthar Hameed Abdullah

Ed.D Educational Psychology and Special Education



Changes over the past twenty years in Oman have brought more access to education for children with disabilities. In more recent years, there has been slow development of integrating children with down syndrome and other disabilities into mainstream classrooms. With more support between the ministries and the schools, schools are developing the resources to meet the needs of more children with disabilities. Research indicates that appropriate education provided in inclusive settings offers the best opportunities for children with Down syndrome.



Research findings (USA) 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 2013 compared the achievements of children with similar abilities and family background educated in special schools and mainstream settings. The study showed significant educational benefits for children who had been through mainstream education with 25-30 hours of additional learning support assistance.


This research shows that children that had gone into mainstream schools with 20-30 hours of weekly after school support (rehabilitation services), showed gains of more than 2 years in spoken language skills and 3 years in reading and writing ability than those of their peers with down syndrome in special education schools. In addition, there were gains in mathematics skills, general knowledge and social independence. It was also noted that the children with down syndrome in mainstream schools also had better behavior. There were no differences in personal independence or social contacts out of school between the children educated in special and mainstream classes.


Suggestions of the Study on Inclusive Education Speech and Language Improvements

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 cannot be stressed enough. Words and sentences are the building blocks for mental development - 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 - 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

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.


Friendships

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 children, teenagers and adults with Down syndrome in their homes, workplaces, shops and leisure activities could be one of many positive results from inclusion.

Children with Down syndrome in mainstream schools also need more opportunities to socialize 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.


Supporting Inclusion

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 - if the whole school community is one that is caring and supportive to all its members.

For achieving successful inclusion in school, the most important judge 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 - understanding why the pupil is in your school, your class, and how the pupil will progress through school

  • organizing management responsibilities for planning and support systems, including making resources

  • proactive involvement of parents, caregivers, and services

  • positive approach to problem-solving.

Planning for the individual child:

  • learn about the specific profile and effective interventions for pupils with Down syndrome

  • 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 - for the pupil, peers and staff

  • use the pupil's strengths to support successful learning and development; for example, social strengths, learning with peers

  • adapt and plan, as necessary, for the individual

  • 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 - support for reading and recording

  • reducing motor demands - 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 task demands

  • new activities based on existing skills

  • small steps with opportunities for practice

  • applying skills in different contexts, situations.

Differentiation and individualized learning:

  • IEP targets - specific outcomes for the child across different curriculum areas over a short period of time

  • Some learning should take place in a 1:1 setting


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 favorable. As with most things, we can all learn from each other’s experiences.


All children must grow and learn together if we want to make a difference in the lives of children and adults with disabilities. Neighbors, friends and coworkers of adults with disabilities will then be able to value the person first, to recognize that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and that everyone has something to contribute to a caring society. Developing caring, inclusive communities improves the quality of life of all members of the community


Dr. Kawthar Hameed Abdullah is an educational psychologist and a special educational specialist. She holds an Ed.D in both educational psychology and special education. She has over 25 years experience working with children with different educational, intellectual and emotional challenges.

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