April has a master's degree in psychology and has experience teaching special populations from preschoolers to adults.
Down Syndrome: Assistive Technology
Students with Down syndrome experience delays with cognitive processing so it typically takes them longer to complete tasks than their classmates. Inclusion in the regular classroom is very important, however, and requires the need for learning aids and modifications for the student with Down syndrome.
For the student with Down syndrome, assistive technology includes any type of adaptation, device, equipment, or material that improve his or her ability to learn and make tasks easier to complete. Assistive technology fosters autonomy and can be as simple as a slanted writing surface or as sophisticated as adaptive computer equipment and learning software.
The right types of assistive technology for each student is best determined using a multidisciplinary approach. A team of professionals that includes the child's parents, medical professionals, special and regular education teachers, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, and, at times, product consultants work together to select the best assistive technology choices for each child's individual needs.
Advantages of Technology
Assistive technology offers distinct advantages for Down syndrome students, including the following:
- Adapts computers and activities to almost any skill level
- Allows for an organized, clutter-free work space
- Allows for non-verbal and non-written responses
- Allows for self-pacing and gives students greater control over their learning
- Emphasizes succeeding not failing or putting forth unnecessary efforts
- Facilitates added practice of skills in an enjoyable way
- Provides immediate feedback
- Provides multi-sensory learning experiences and supports visual learners
While by no means a complete list, the following ideas are examples of assistive technology that can be particularly helpful to students with Down syndrome. Let's take a look at some of these examples.
For students with Down syndrome, learning is often enhanced through tactile experiences. Forming letters and numbers with Play-Doh or drawing them with the finger in shaving cream on a desk are two examples. Letters can also be enlarged, cut out of heavy card stock or light sandpaper. These can then be glued down on a surface for the child to trace over with his/her fingers.
Smartboards are also an excellent tool for students with Down syndrome, as they allow them to add, delete, or move objects with their fingers and draw lines to connect sounds with words. This facilitates learning by adapting to students who are developing fine motor control and providing them with multi-sensory experiences.
Writing & Cutting Skills
Students with Down syndrome tend to have shorter, stubbier fingers, a lowered thumb, and some undeveloped wrist bones, which makes the physical aspect of writing more difficult. A simple, low-tech adaptation for this is a 3-ring binder turned sideways or a slanted desk. Shortened and triangular pencils are also easier to hold and to teach proper grip.
A SmartPen from Livescribe can be useful as it records what the student hears and writes, which is then transferred to a computer, laptop, or tablet. Handwritten notes are viewed on the screen and converted to text and audio, providing a multi-sensory experience. Class lessons, instructions, or other information can also be recorded.
Custom-designed keyboards, joysticks, and mice ease dexterity limitations and accommodate the individual cognitive and physical needs of students with Down syndrome. Touch-typing can be learned using programs that say letters as the keystrokes are made.
Since hand mobility is often limited in students with Down syndrome, opening and closing scissors is difficult. Special scissors aided by a spring that automatically opens once students makes a cut not only helps them complete the task but also teaches them a motion that they may not be able to learn through their own experience.
Learning software is an excellent form of assistive technology for students with Down syndrome, as it's facilitated by engaging, interactive, multi-sensory, and highly adaptable material. Here are some of the areas that are aided by assistive technology software and apps, including a sample program:
- Concept development, including auditory and visual discrimination, awareness of the body, categorizing, emotions, matching, recognition, and sequencing (Happy Duck)
- Language development and literacy
- Interactive books for hearing a story while reading the words (Reading Horizons)
- Reinforcement software targeting specific learning areas (Fuzzbuzz)
- Spellcheckers to take the frustration out of spelling and focus on content (Ghotit)
- Teacher-made content tailored to a child's specific needs (Clicker 4)
- Word banks help with word retrieval (Wordbar), and
- Word processing, which gives children with pencil-holding difficulties an alternative (Microsoft Word)
- Collaborative work, such as word processing programs that can scan in clipart and photos to produce class magazines and projects or report on field trips (PowerPoint)
- Math, including interactive programs and games that provide greater motivation and reinforcement adaptable to the child's level (IXL Learning)
- Life skills, which enrich the learning process and provide simulations of actual situations students are likely to face (QuickQues), and
- Sensory stimulation like auditory or visual stimulation, which elicits a reaction from the student (Switch It! Patterns)
Assistive technology helps students with Down syndrome improve learning and complete tasks more easily. It can take the form of adaptations, devices, equipment, and materials chosen by a multi-disciplinary team made up of the child's parents, medical professionals, special and regular education teachers, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, and, at times, product consultants.
Advantages of assistive technology for students with Down syndrome include those related to tactile experiences, ranging from the simple - tracing letters made out of sandpaper - to the more complex: smart boards. Custom-designed computers and their associated support tools can assist with dexterity and physical writing and allow students to record information for later use. Assistive technology such as learning software can also help students with Downs syndrome acquire skills related to concept development, language development, literacy, and math. Software can also help students develop life skills by providing them with simulations of real-life experiences they may encounter in the future, in addition to facilitating collaborative work and providing them with multi-sensory experiences.
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