I’ve just had the pleasure of attending my first ever Down syndrome Education Conference for 2015, run by our state’s Down syndrome association, DSAQ. While the conference is largely aimed at teachers who support students with Down syndrome, it is also valuable for parents. The theme of this year’s event was “It starts with us”, and there were many professionals who presented, including a physiotherapist, speech pathologist, teachers, maths expert, and some young and accomplished adults who happen to have Down syndrome. I came away from the event feeling both challenged and inspired.
I’m sure each person who attended would have taken away different elements from the two conference days, but I wanted to share the things most memorable for me:
- There were a few references to the research by John Hattie which closely links the teacher’s expectations of the student to the student’s outcome. While this makes perfect sense, it reinforced my belief that we have to continue having high expectations of Nicholas in his ability to succeed throughout life.
- The importance of communication between parents, teachers and other school staff in the education of our child – what’s working, how can we adjust what we’re doing to help our child succeed, what can we supplement at home.
- Reinforcement that the visual memory and reading ability of a child with Down syndrome are two big strengths, so we need to harness those by embarking on a whole-word approach to reading as young as possible. (Reading Our Way is the reading program for people with Down syndrome developed by DSAQ, but other options might be the Doman based How to Teach Your Baby to Read or BrillKids Little Reader).
- While many symptoms and behaviours have historically been put down to “just because of Down syndrome”, it’s important to look at the physiological reasons behind why these might be happening and investigate the root cause, rather than dismiss. Is a particular behaviour due to lack of core strength, different way of processing sensory information, etc? How can we support that student better?
- Sometimes we get hung up on the way things “should” be taught. Based on experiences with her daughter and subsequent research undertaken, Dr Rhonda Faragher gave a really interesting presentation on utilising slightly different methods and workarounds to allow students with Down syndrome achieve the same results as their typical peers.
- There seemed to be a theme on building on the strengths of the student with Down syndrome, rather than ‘fixing’ them or making them adhere strictly to the methods of their typical peers.
We were very blessed to have quite a few teachers from our school in attendance, and the School Officer (teacher aide) in Charlie’s class actually won the Teacher Award for 2014, which was announced at the conference. Congratulations Miss Jodi! Jodi gave a wonderful presentation on the best ways she has learned to support her student with Down syndrome over the past few years.
Lisa Bridle gave a very memorable closing address, sharing experiences with her son Sean and their family’s pursuit of inclusive education and a rich and fulfilling life for him. She drew on the theme of “it starts with us” so beautifully, beginning with how important it is to “start with” seeing our child or our student as a person, rather than a diagnosis. We laughed and cried as she shared her passion, her strength, her highs and lows with us all. (If you haven’t already, please go and read Lisa’s guest post here on the blog last October on ‘The Virtue of Stubborn‘).
If you know of a teacher who would benefit from sharing knowledge and experiences with other teachers of students with Down syndrome, please encourage them to go to the Down syndrome Education conference in Brisbane next year, or perhaps there’s a similar one run in your local area. Based on the very positive feedback I heard from other attendees at the conference, I’m sure they will get so much out of it.
It really does start with us.
nicholas: You were so happy to hang out in Rachel’s arms while we were at school watching Sam’s class lead the assembly. And then you climbed stairs, we played soccer, walked around and visited friends to fill in time before we could take those big boys home. You were very busy. You loved playing golf over at Grandma and Grandad’s later in the week. I wonder if you’ll follow in their footsteps and have a passion for golf.
charlie: Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the most magical of them all? In both the photographs I chose of you this week, you were in dressups, so it appears you still like doing that on occasion. On Monday afternoon, I was trying to be extra organised as I had limited time before the babysitter was coming and Daddy and I had to go out. Of course, this was the time you were very insistent that we needed to create a Box Troll costume for you. So the lunches for school the next day didn’t get made, but you were very happy with your costume and needed me to confirm that I would NEVER throw out that box we used to make it ;)
Joining in the 52 Project at Practising Simplicity ~ a portrait of my boys every week in 2015.