What is Down Syndrome?
Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a partial or full additional 21st chromosome. John Langdon Down was the first to publish an accurate scholarly article in 1866 describing Down Syndrome, and was noted as the father of Down syndrome. Since then, with an increase in research, many discoveries have been made. Down Syndrome is the most common genetic condition. It affects 406,000 Americans. One in every 691 babies born have Down syndrome. There are three types of Down syndrome; Trisomy 21(Nondisjunction), Mosaicism, and Translocation. Ninety-five percent of people with Down Syndrome have Trisomy 21.
Prenatally, Down syndrome can be found using screening tests, which give a probability, or using diagnostic tests. Diagnostic tests give a near definite answer. The diagnosis can also be made after birth using Karyotype Chromosomal Analysis or based on certain identifiable traits. People with Down syndrome are becoming “increasingly integrated into society and community organizations, such as school, health care systems, work forces, and social and recreational activities” (NDSS).
“Down Syndrome.” Down Syndrome – National Down Syndrome Society. N.p., 2012. Web. Nov. 2016.
Down Syndrome in the Classroom
Students with Down syndrome have some universal challenges because of their chromosomal disorder:
Up to 80 percent of children with Down syndrome experience hearing loss and have had ear surgeries and require the use of hearing aids. As a result, this may throw off their vestibule sense.
Dance class accommodations: limit/remove music during instruction
A majority of students wear glasses due to sight loss. This may inhibit their depth perception, creating reduced confidence in their movements.
Dance class accommodations: encourage students to move in a different direction (backwards, sideways, etc.)
Hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) can cause a lack of energy and changes in cognitive processing, resulting in disruptive behaviors in the classroom.
Dance class accommodations: stay focused on the students fully participating in class. Ask assistant to encourage the student to participate or remove student from class for a short break.
Respiratory Infections/Low Immunity:
Students with Down syndrome are prone to upper respiratory infections due to their narrow air passages and may need to take additional water breaks to refresh their throats.
Dance class accommodations: have tissues and hand sanitizer available
Atlantoaxial instability is an instability of the top two vertebrae and can lead to damage to the spinal cord.
Dance class accommodations: educators should take caution to limit all activities that put stress on the student’s neck. Any acrobatics that require balances on or rolling over the neck (forward rolls) should not be included in the lesson plan. Neck isolations are also not recommended.
Low Muscle Tone:
Students with Down syndrome can build muscle but may not be able to build it at the level of those without Down syndrome. (Reduced tension of the muscles at rest requires the muscles to work more in order to move.) Since, they have more instabilities in their joints, educators need to make sure that the class is building supportive muscles around the joint incrementally. Due to weak core muscles, it may be difficult for students to maintain a body position or change position. Pronation of the feet is very common, making balance movements more difficult. Some students have muscular imbalances that may cause them to favor one side over the other. For example, the right side may be stronger or weaker than the left or vice versa, creating a tendency to only hop or balance on one side.
Dance class accommodations: give students incremental progressions at their level and provide physical support to those who need help
Often the developmental skills that children without Down syndrome learned while playing were not a part of the student’s with Down syndrome childhood. They may not have been asked to hop on 1 foot, skip and/or gallop and therefore these skills may be new. The skills must be taught incrementally as they are not intuitive to the student.
Dance class accommodations: break down skills into smaller parts that can be accomplished, use incremental skill building
Short Term Memory Retention and Problem Solving:
Students with Down syndrome learn quicker if they see a visual demonstration of the skill, hear verbal directions of the skill, and then see a visual demonstration of the skill again before trying to accomplish it. Be cautious as these students are good imitators and may copy the movement without actually memorizing it. This can stunt their development and progress in learning the skill. Students may also have difficulty processing multiple instructions at once. Each additional instruction that is processed increases the difficulty of the skill exponentially so add new instructions one at a time.
Dance class accommodations: use simple language and short sentences for explanations. Add skills incrementally. Ask them focus questions to push their memory. Demonstrate skills with visuals, then verbally, then again with both.
Students with Down syndrome can also be prone to Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), creating even more challenges to hold their focus. To help students maintain focus, include them in the class plan and give them choices. The choice needs to be direct; “Do you want to gallop or march around the circle?” Students must be able to avoid distraction to work persistently on a task and show progress. Tasks that have little structure require a high-level of self regulation to maintain focus. Children with Down syndrome may participate less in free play activities because of their inability to stay focused.
Dance class accommodations: keep class plan organized and keep class moving even if one or more students get off track, use assistant for help to bring back the student’s focus.
Many students with Down syndrome have Sensory Processing Disorder and may be bothered by a variety of different stimuli, mainly relating to their sense of hearing, touch and/or sight. By identifying the needs of each student, the classroom can be tailored to fit their needs and create an environment conducive to their learning style.
Many also have Sensory Integration Problems (SIP) which inhibit the use of information gathered through the senses. Students with SIP have difficulty organizing the sensory messages in a meaningful way. Students may have challenges “reading cues,” (verbal or nonverbal) or may understand the cues but not be able to change their behavior.
Dance class accommodations: be aware of the different Sensory Processing needs that exist in the class and adjust accordingly.
Students with Down syndrome often have a difficult time adapting to changes in schedule, new class structures/teachers and new environments.
Dance class accommodations: keep all class exercises consistent week to week to help these students get the most out of class. Add a slight change each week to challenge them.