WhichSchoolAdvisor.com met with Rebecca Corley, founder of the not-for-profit group, All 4 Downs Syndrome, to discuss her decade long experience supporting families living with Downs.
The majority of parents with Downs children have no inkling of their baby’s condition until he or she is born. It’s only in the first few hours, and during what should be the happiest moments of their lives that they begin to face an entirely different and uncertain future. With no counselling currently offered in hospitals, parents are left adrift. Rebecca says, “Some go home and literally panic, while others set about a rigorous schedule of therapies.”
“But you need to remember, a child with Downs actually has a head start on other children with special educational needs (SEN),” she says. “When a Downs child is born, the parents know immediately, unlike other conditions. If parents seek the right interventions from the start, the child has a very real opportunity of reaching his or her full potential.”
Therapies & Interventions
A child with Downs benefits greatly from immediate physiotherapy coupled with speech and language therapy, while parents should ideally seek training in basic physio too.
It’s recommended that both parents and babies learn Makaton the international children’s sign language. Based on gestures and images with speech, Makaton encourages communication from an early age. Dubai has several centres offering training, but before you sign up; ensure you know exactly which version of Makaton you’re learning, as there are currently several options on offer in Dubai.
For high functioning children with Downs, mainstream education is the ideal. Not only does it give children better communication skills, but they’ll also appreciate the structure and routine. However, choose your school carefully. Children with Downs learn best by copying others, and while other kids really help, remember, they’ll just as quickly pick up bad habits too!
Although there are no recent figures there are children with Down’s in mainstream education in the UAE. However, it should be noted admissions fizzle out by secondary level, due mainly to the lack of curriculum modification options offered. By this point, the only alternative is to secure a place in a ‘special school,’ many of which have a two year minimum waiting list.
One of the biggest issue parents face, is the assumption from teachers and other parents is that their child won’t be able to cope. “It’s essential as a parent that you and everyone dealing with your child understand that there is not one kind of Downs. Each and every child is different. Just because a teacher, therapist or friend might have known a Downs child in the past, it doesn’t mean they know YOUR child, there really is no ‘typical’ Downs child,” maintains Rebecca.
However, Cathleen O’ Connor, educator and SEN teacher trainer says, “Down’s Syndrome, children do have a very specific learning profile with characteristic strengths and weaknesses. Recognising this is important… to aid learning."
Cathleen believes schools should employ certain strategies and resources when teaching children with Downs. Ask your school if they can offer:
• Shortened tasks: Is it possible to break-down bigger tasks into more manageable pieces?
• Can they add fun to keep children engaged?
• Do they use motivators? Stickers, stamps and anything which the child can collect as they progress.
• Do they allow movement breaks?
For maths: Ask if they supply:
• Numicom, Cuisenaire rods, unifix blocks or an abacus
For language: Can they add-
• Audio books and videos
• Visual cues
• A reading guide to follow words on page
• Digital dictionaries
For behaviour and social is it possible to-
• Have pair work, peer teaching and buddy system?
Before you start considering school, it’s essential you start planning how to make life there for your child as stress-free as possible. “Make it easier for your child to integrate by being the first to do things, teach your child to open food, get dressed, help themselves,” says Rebecca.
When approaching schools Rebecca is adamant you shouldn’t settle for just any school that accepts your child. “Make sure it’s the right one for his or her AND your needs. You’re going to have to fight for your rights, and, if a school tells you before even assessing your child, that you’ll need to pay extra for a shadow, move on…it’s not the right one for you.”
Rebecca’s advice for those planning to relocate to the UAE with a child with Downs:
• DO NOT come if your child is not high functioning or is over seven years old
• DO NOT come if your health insurance is not comprehensive
• Speech and language therapy alone is Dhs360-600 per session, think long and hard about the costs
• If you currently have a good school and your child is integrated and happy, consider what you are giving up!
All 4 Downs Syndrome Dubai supports parents of Downs Syndrome children in the UAE. The group offers a 24 hour helpline and has a comprehensive list of contacts, schools and shadow teachers. For more information visit: www.all4downsyndrome.com
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