Every child everywhere has the right to live, grow, learn, and lead a normal life. Children with disabilities the most vulnerable and discriminated against groups in the world. The stigma associated with disability places the children at a great disadvantage as they get isolated at home, abandoned in institutions, and robbed of the chance to attain quality schooling. Children with disabilities are often stowed away from the public eye as family members consider them a source of embarrassment. Regardless of any disability, all children have a right to reach their full potential. At a young age, learning and teaching of the disabled and normal children happens together, but as they grow older, they are separated which is a disadvantage for all the children. This paper focuses on the effects of Down syndrome on children and how it affects their learning in schools and their socialization in society.
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CAUSES OF DOWN SUNDROME
The nucleus of human body Cells contains 23 pairs of chromosomes. These chromosomes contain genes carrying the genetic materials which determine hereditary characteristics. Down syndrome is a genetic disorder where an individual possesses 47 chromosomes instead of 46. There is a presence of a partial or full extra copy of chromosome 21. It is this extra genetic material that changes the course of growth in children and causes the symptoms associated with Down syndrome (National Down Syndrome Society).
TYPES OF DOWN SYNDROME
There are three types of down syndrome; trisomy 21, translocation, and mosaicism. Trisomy 21 is caused by ” nondisjunction”, an error in cell division during conception. Nondisjunction results in 3 copies of chromosome 21 instead of the normal 2 per cell. This abnormality is replicated in every cell as the fetus grows. Trisomy 21 is responsible for 95% of all down syndrome cases. Mosaicism is caused by nondisjunction in one cell after fertilization. As a result, there are two types of cells in the resulting fetus, 46 and 47 chromosomes cells. Cells with 47 chromosomes have an extra chromosome21. Mosaicism is accountable for 1% of the total down syndrome cases. Individuals with mosaic down syndrome exhibit fewer symptoms of the syndrome. Translocation occurs when part of chromosome 21 breaks off and attaches to another chromosome, normally chromosome 14. The overall number of chromosome in the cell will be 46, but the presence of an additional part of chromosome 21 leads to Down syndrome. Translocation is responsible for 4% of all Down syndrome cases (National Down Syndrome Society).
SYMPTOMS OF DOWN SYNDROME
Children suffering from Down syndrome exhibit a range of symptoms, but some are prevalent in almost all cases. Some of the common symptoms include low muscle tone, upward slanted eyes, small stature, and a deep crease running across the center of the palm. Other common symptoms include a short neck, ” flat face”, bulging tongue, abnormal ear shapes, and a small head and ears (Eunice Kennedy Institute of Child Health and Human Development.).
Down syndrome can be diagnosed before birth through prenatal screening and diagnostic screening. Pregnancies diagnosed with the syndrome can be terminated if the parent wishes so. Individuals born with the syndrome undergo regular screening for diseases associated with the ailment throughout their life (Mayo Clinic).
CHALLENGES FACED BY CHILDREN WITH DOWN SYNDROME
One out of every twenty children aged under fourteen is living with a moderate or severe type of disability. Many of these children are hidden from the public and held from family and public gatherings, denied schooling, and abandoned by their governments.
The main challenge of children living with Down syndrome is low intellectual ability. Children with moderate cases of Down syndrome undergo normal schooling in typical schools. Those with severe conditions have to be schooled in special facilities with programs tailored specifically for them. People with Down syndrome have an average IQ of 50. This is equivalent to that of a nine-year-old child. Some individuals with down syndrome manage to graduate from high school while a selected few pursue secondary education.
Children with Down syndrome live a very difficult life. They are under constant threat of infection by diseases associated with the syndrome and have to schedule regular medical checkups. The child’s vital organs need to be examined because the syndromes render the body weak, which pose the risk of organ failure. The child has to undergo examinations such as x-ray of major joints and spine to check for instability, cardio checks to monitor the heart, ear, and eye checkups, and brain ultrasounds.
Children with Down syndrome miss out on the joys of childhood. Because of their condition, they cannot engage in strenuous exercise like physical games or sports with other children. Other children might also be reluctant to interact with them because of their peculiar looks and character. Parents too might be unwilling to take their children with Down Syndrome out to play because they fear being ridiculed or discriminated. This might have negative psychological impacts on the child such as low esteem or poor socialization.
Apart from intellectual disability, Down syndrome is accompanied by a range of medical conditions of varying severity. The most notable is heart defects. Half of children with Down syndrome have heart defects that are corrigible through surgery. Others include respiratory infections, hypothyroidism, constipation, eye, dental conditions, and eye problems. Mental abnormalities such as depression are also common.
TEACHING CHILDREN WITH DOWN SYNDROME
Children suffering from down syndrome require a different approach to teaching as compared to normal children. Learning in afflicted children is hindered by low intellectual ability, speech and hearing challenges, and short concentration spans. A teacher has to surmount these challenges in order to get through to the child and impart knowledge. A clear understanding of the uptake of knowledge and the behavior of Down syndrome sufferers are essential. Children suffering from down syndrome are visual learners. They understand easily when they see and do something practically. They also understand more than what is perceived, can follow rules, and need assistance remembering instructions such as the use of mnemonics (Down Syndrome WA). The people responsible for teaching these children should also understand that they too have feelings similar to normal children.
Children with Down syndrome and other disabilities should be treated with special care to ensure that they are fully integrated into the school environment. Inclusion is an effective strategy for afflicted student in normal schools. An inclusion model involves students receiving full support from the teachers and fellow students. An inclusion environment provides a natural environment and minimizes stigma.
Teaching modals for students with learning disabilities and slightly retarded students have been shown to work with down’s students. A multimodal approach accompanied by real life examples improves their learning curves and boosts their memories. Teachers should take the students through a solid learning continuum and should not downplay the student’s ability to learn and progress academically. The mode of instructions should be formulated taking into account their short attention span (Watson). Instructions should cover a short period and involve few activities. New materials should also be introduced slowly and sequentially to give them ample time to absorb and internalize the knowledge.
According to Watson, Down’s students are easily distracted, and the teacher should eliminate all factors likely to cause distractions. Such practices such as keeping the student from the windows, maintaining low noise levels, and maintaining order to provide an environment free from surprises will help the student concentrate on a task.
In the society, normal and disabled children interact together during play and at school. Normal children start developing and learning faster and are discouraged from interacting with their disabled counterparts. This is where isolation of the disabled children starts in society. The society indoctrinates this negative attitude into the normal children and as a result, they grow up with the perception that disabled people are less desirable and should be shunned. This can be reversed if the normal children are taught alongside the disabled children and encouraged to assist them in areas where they need help. This fosters a society that embraces the disabled instead of shunning them and relegating them to obscurity.
Children with disabilities are a part of society and cannot be disregarded. With advancements in medicine and technology, medical care for patients with Down syndrome has improved, and early deaths have declined. Life expectancy has also risen to a maximum of 60years. Many organizations have also been established to cater for disabled children. Parents whose unborn children are diagnosed with Down syndrome should not terminate their pregnancies as support for their needs is readily available. Families of disabled children and society in large need to work towards fighting the stigma associated with disabilities such as Down syndrome. A receptive society will ease the embarrassment that families with disabled children endure and ensure these children lead a normal life.
Down Syndrome WA. Teaching Strategies. n. p. 2014. Web, 28 Nov 2014.
Eunice Kennedy Institute of Child Health and Human Development. What are common symptoms of Down syndrome? USA. gov, 2014. Web, 28 Nov 2014.
Mayo Clinic. Down Sndrome. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2014. Web, 28 Nov 2014.
National Down Syndrome Society. What is down syndrome? ndss. org, 2012. Web, 28 Nov 2014.
NHS Choices. Down’s syndrome. Gov. uk, n. p. Web, 28 Nov 2014.
Watson, Sue. Teaching Down’s Syndrome Students. About Education, 2014. Web, 28 Nov 2014.