Posted by Elizabeth McDuffie
Effective Inclusion of Down Syndrome Students
It has become increasingly popular to mainstream Down syndrome students into the regular educational classroom. The article Factors Associated with the Effective Inclusion of Primary-aged Pupils with Down Syndrome outlines factors that lead to successful mainstream placements in British Schools. It also expresses concerns and attitudes of students, peers, teachers and support staff. The findings suggest that following were crucial to the success of the inclusion programs:
*The management and hiring of the TAs (teacher assistants) needs to be done by the individual school. Programs that worked well had greater flexibility of the management and hiring of the TAs. When the TA was part of a team of other support staff, such as a special needs coordinator, the support for the Down syndrome student was more beneficial.
*One school that inclusion worked well in had a part time teacher who, with the support of the special needs coordinator, organized and managed the TAs. She was an experienced teacher and was able to give good advice and guidance to the TAs. Because of this organization, the mentorship facilitated by the experienced teacher ensured that everyone was aware of the student’s educational needs.
*When the roles of the teacher and support staff were well defined, it led to better management of the students with special needs. Schools that lacked clear leadership and had internal confusion of roles with this the school caused the program to be less successful.
*Another key factor in successful inclusion was the mainstream teacher’s ownership of having a Down syndrome student in their class. If the teacher was able to fully integrate the student with the life of the classroom, it was better for the Downs student to be a part of the regular classroom as opposed to them receiving instruction primarily through the TA. Instead of instruction, the TAs job was to support the student while they are still apart of the mainstream class. For example, one TA took a log each day of the student’s progress, to assure the teacher could plan adequately for the next day. (I imagine this could also be useful in portfolio collection.)
The School Community
Most parents felt good about the inclusion of their child in a mainstream school. Teachers also generally felt positively about the inclusion. Teachers that did not feel comfortable were either working with older children when there was a great deal of pressure for students to perform well on tests. Likewise, teachers with little experience tended to feel anxious especially in the beginning of the year.
Down Syndrome students were generally well liked by their peers. Many students reported that they enjoyed working with the down syndrome student. Some teachers expressed concern that this didn’t mean there was a genuine friendship between students and that it was more of a mothering role. Other teachers however, saw this as a sign that the students cared for each other, and reported that some students had actually become more caring due to their special classmate.
In conclusion, programs of inclusion for Down syndrome students that work well tend to have similar characteristics. They must be organized and the roles of staff members need to be clearly defined. The staff needs to be a collaborative group that is working towards the success of the school as a whole. Furthermore, teachers need support form senior teachers and other advisors. In the study the relationship between the mentors in the successful schools did not seemed forced, but rather the mentor was a resource to the other teachers. I think this study really applies to DCPS- organization and staff coherence is critical to school success.
S. Fox, P Farrell, P. Davis 2004 Factors associated with the effective inclusion of primary-aged pupils with down syndrome. British Journal of Special Education Vol. 31.