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You are in: Home > Articles > Down's Syndrome, Computers and the Curriculum

Down's Syndrome, Computers and the Curriculum


The following article was put together from Bob Black's notes used at the Fringe Event - Down's Syndrome, Computers and the Curriculum - at BETT '98

Changing attitudes to learning difficulties, improved opportunities through inclusion, taking part in the real world alongside their non disabled peers, and higher expectations, have resulted in many children achieving far more, both socially and educationally, than was previously thought possible.

Children with Down's syndrome learn best from what they see and do, so being involved in topic work and curriculum on the same subject, but perhaps at their own level, with individual targets within the subject is desirable.

The most important period for learning must be the early years. Breaking down skills at this point to gain reading, numeracy and social skills means breaking down even the pre-reading and pre-number skills and presenting tasks that will help develop the problems with short term memory and poor co-ordination that is so prevalent.

Taking time to break skills down to basics to help them learn is better than replacing the need to learn the skill, which prevents the child from moving forward. Use specialist devices as a tool to achieve an end, a conceptual bridge between that which cannot be done at present to the skill that is desired. If this slows the child down temporarily in terms of moving along with their peer group, remember that inclusion is more important than curriculum.

Inclusion differs from integration because the latter assumes that the child belongs or starts out somewhere other than within the broad spectrum that we assume to be normal, and therefore have to be let in some way to somewhere that they don't really belong. Inclusion means that we belong here and we just need our needs to be addressed alongside everybody else.

Therapy is a strange word which tends to imply that something is broken and needs to be fixed. Not true. Children with developmental delay, or learning difficulties more appropriately, require to develop skills, probably more slowly than is the norm and increasing evidence shows that this requires an approach that uses all faculties. Reading should not be separated from language development or spatial awareness or hearing or short term memory.

Computers offer a variety of ways of overcoming some of the problems associated with differentiation, allowing teachers and ancillary staff to produce individual work sheets, tasks to explore topics and exercises to drill and practice without all the associated boredom. Computers can be highly motivating; sustain a child's attention; provide a highly organised environment; provide improved accuracy and presentation which improves self esteem.

Being in control of the computer is very rewarding especially if a child is rarely in control of day to day life because of language difficulties. It reduces the need for precision with fine motor skills which are often delayed. Early intervention and specific targeted programmes have only developed in the last 10 years, so we have no idea what children with Down's syndrome are really capable of, because we have yet to see the results of these practices and t echniques.

A classic example is the way in which children with Down's syndrome learn to develop speech by learning to read. This is called 'teaching reading to teach talking' and this is clearly proven to be the most valuable method that has emerged for developing both reading, speech and memory skills:

Developing a whole word visual sight vocabulary before breaking words down phonically.

Flash cards used even before speech has developed.

Signing as a conceptual bridge to motivate communication and encourage productive speech. A conceptual bridge is just a transition point between where you are now (seeing and knowing) to where you want to go (speaking and reading).

Basic skills that are often assumed may need to be developed to the point where they can be used. Parents know about this. There is nothing wrong with error free learning at this point. Error free is simply being shown how to do it, being allowed to do it with help and practising skills without encountering difficulties.

Single task software is great for error free learning; simple matching exercises; simple puzzle programmes; simple sequencing. No frills, no bells and whistles, preferably accompanied by spoken and written language and bridges if required.

The Down's Syndrome Educational Trust and the Down's Syndrome Association got together to develop a software package for children with Down's Syndrome. The program consists of simple single exercises, which started out performing the task for the child: to demonstrate the requirements of the task before requiring the child to interact by anything more than pressing the spacebar or a simple switch. At all times leaving the child in charge of the task and introducing spoken language and written words at every stage. Paying particular attention to the concept of 'teaching reading to teach talking' and preparing a child to embark on the standard reading schemes that are available to all teachers: The Redhats, Ginn, ORT and Cambridge schemes.

Speaking For Myself PLUS covers these areas thoroughly and demonstrates all the best practice that we encountered working with dozens of children at pre-school and nursery/ infant level almost regardless of the amount of early intervention that had occurred.

A good range of multimedia programmes exist very cheaply to allow the child to explore using the computer and gaining confidence on the computer. Living Books series and Edmark's CD Romsare good examples.

In the current financial climate many of the best adapted materials are home made and those that are purchased are too expensive for an individual child. Many groups of schools or LEAs run a resource library so that these materials can be accessed and shared.

Clicker offers a whole range of opportunities for developing resources tailored to an individual's needs. Learning this package today is as important as being able to use My World in the past and although it entails a higher level of IT skills to tailor, it certainly demands no more than is currently expected. It can very effectively integrate words, sound, speech, pictures, animations and video to produce the very best types of learning materials to capture a child's interest.

Writing With Symbols is greatly overrated a s a teaching tool for children with Down's syndrome, although at the early stages of literacy development it can easily produce a whole range of helpful material that can be used for literacy development. This is also one of the types of programme that I referred to as being able to disable as enable.

Bear in mind that symbols are the link and not the gaol. Children with Down's syndrome almost all learn to read and write and symbols can be a massive distraction from the written word as well as a link to it.

One of the most obvious and most underrated resources is subject specific clip art. No particular recommendations but lots linked to areas of the National Curriculum that can be used to enable a child to work on a subject alongside their peers, using visual material to produce work that is relevant and appropriate, reducing the need for fine motor skills and presenting very smart pieces of work to be proud of.

As literacy develops through reading and writing no child is better suited to the range of talking word processors than the child with Downs syndrome. Introducing keyboard skills as early as possible to account for the slowness and motor skills will pay dividends in the long term and a programme including keyboard skills and touch typing will be worthwhile to enable the child to access these proven benefits following on from the talking books software.

Bob Black, Down's Syndrome Association, Development Officer South West, 4 Fairfield Road, Falmouth, Cornwall TR11 2DN . UK -Tele/Fax: 01326 311007 . Email: [email protected]

Down's Syndrome Association . Web Site: www.downs-syndrome.org.uk



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