Continuing to Educate
by Ellen Doman
One of the ongoing battles in raising a child with Down Syndrome is the fight to continue to present academic content to an older child. It has long been the custom of school districts to largely abandon inputting new information to children with DS as they reach the middle school and high school years in favor of providing “life skills.”
Districts across the United States move students with DS from traditional educational pursuits to “life skills” as if this were a reasonable course of action. In studies done as far back as 1995-1996, researchers such as Carr, Bochner, Pieterse as well as Fowler, Doherty and Boynton found that there was a wide range of reading abilities among young adults with DS. Dunn and Dunn in 1981 found that reading abilities in a group of individuals with DS ranging in ages from 17 to 25 varied greatly.
In 2001, Bochner, Othred and Pieterse completed a study of 27 young adults with DS and found that they were still able to learn to read and/or to improve their reading abilities given the opportunity to do so.
So why do districts presume that children with DS will all have the same academic outcomes? Why do districts decide to stop providing a solid education to individuals with DS?
Not only are students with DS given limited reading and math instruction, but they are also given less instruction in areas which provide general information such as Social Studies, Science, Civics, and History. As a result, they often have more difficulty with reading comprehension due to the lack of a frame of reference for what they are reading.
In an article by Moni and Jobling in 2001, the observation was made that new assessment tools for reading comprehension would need to be developed to better suit the DS population. If students with DS often receive less instruction in the subjects which provide other students with a fund of general information and if they are also limited in how many years they will receive academic instruction, then it would appear that the issue is a lack of appropriate education.
Efficient instruction that fits the needs of the individual student combined with an understanding of how to improve the student’s ability to process information provided for as many years as possible will ensure that this diverse group of learners is given the best opportunities for success. This should not be radical thinking, but mainstream practice. It is the essence of a right to education.