Assistive Technology for Students with Down Syndrome

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  • 0:04 Down Syndrome:…
  • 1:08 Advantages of Technology
  • 1:59 Tactile Activities
  • 2:41 Writing & Cutting Skills
  • 3:59 Cognitive Skills
  • 5:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: April Gwen Ellsworth

April has a master's degree in psychology and has experience teaching special populations from preschoolers to adults.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the different types of assistive technology geared toward helping students with Down syndrome develop their cognitive and writing skills, including the specific benefits of the tools.

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.

Tactile Activities

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.

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