How does our academic program differ?
Our curriculum has been designed specifically for students with Down syndrome, taking into account the patterns of neurological strengths and weaknesses, behaviors, and even personal gifts that are unique to students with Down syndrome. Students with Down syndrome don’t just learn more slowly than others—they learn differently. It is by teaching them differently that we are able to help them achieve their real potential!
Six principles shape our programs and our
customized teaching methods.
- Utilize neurological pathways that are strengths. Numerous research projects have demonstrated that while portions of the hippocampus, the pre-frontal cortex, and the cerebellum are significantly impaired in people with Down syndrome, other neurological pathways are less affected. Right-hemisphere processes, which usually handle holistic, spatial, and creative tasks, are much stronger than left-hemisphere processes that usually control math functions, verbal tasks, and muscle control. To encourage the brain to process as much as possible through the strongest pathways, we customize our teaching to
- Increase the use of spatial and relational images in every subject
- Add creativity, emotional content, and visual and sensory stimulation
- Decrease reliance on learning by listening to verbal instruction
- Build on the strength of understanding processes, patterns, and charts
- Recognize that students understand much more than they express
- Focus on students’ gifts for humor and seeing things in new ways
- Build in activities that increase short-term memory capacity
- Include normally developing peers to the greatest extent possible at every level. We capitalize on our students’ gifts for imitating desirable behaviors, speech, and study habits by partnering with typically developing peers in classrooms and throughout the day.
- Group students by ability for each subject. We recognize that students with Down syndrome may be three or even five years more advanced in some subjects than in others, and that the best way to achieve the greatest progress is to challenge and support them at just the right level in each task.
- Use motivators that matter. In contrast to typical students who are often motivated by competition or fear of bad grades, our students respond to praise, affection, achieving independence, and being part of a team. We use visual ways of showing progress that have meaning for our students, and avoid methods of grading that make comparisons.
- Teach students to love a challenge! We combat tendencies to tune out, avoid physical activity, and evade work by changing up the environment frequently, creating active fun, and increasing rewards. We work to build both self-discipline and awareness of future rewards that are worth working toward.
- Emphasize speech in every activity. For most of our students, the inability to communicate fluently is the biggest roadblock to social and professional inclusion. We make speech one of our highest priorities, and cultivate an atmosphere in which it is not criticism but a part of life to be asked to practice a phrase with better articulation. Each student receives daily speech therapy, and all teachers, leaders, and volunteers support and applaud clear speech throughout every day.