Classrooms by their very nature are busy, stimulating environments. Excessive stimulation can over-excite a FXS child leading to tantrums, meltdowns, over-activity, withdrawal, repetitive behaviour and further disrupted speech patterns.
An environment in which the aim is to limit over-stimulation can avoid many of these problems. For example:
- Minimising auditory and visual distractions
- Working from a position behind the child to reduce the need for eye contact
- ‘Packaging’ work in at 15-minute blocks to retain attention
- Establishing and maintaining links to keep parents informed of developments (perhaps a home/school notebook)
- Teaching methods which involve relatively few distractions
- ‘Time-out’ to give the child a break when necessary
- Establishing familiar and consistent classroom or individual routines
- Keeping the child informed of impending changes
- Making sure the child knows why and how things are going to happen. e.g. when a child says, ‘Can we read a book’ rather than saying ‘In a minute’, it is better to explain: ‘We’ll have to wait until we finish our water experiment so the book doesn’t get wet’.
Curriculum Strengths and Weaknesses:
It is almost certain that in all cases at least some curriculum differentiation will be necessary, and in a significant number of cases, additional classroom support will be required. The need for a suitably differentiated curriculum is likely to be particularly evident in arithmetic and mathematics. Research and experience has shown that children with FXS can find this work exceptionally difficult, particularly where conceptual learning is involved. Handwriting too, can present significant problems. While these areas tend to be relative weaknesses, reading and spelling can be relative strengths, with some children achieving ‘average’ range performance at least in terms of accuracy. Again though, conceptual learning, such as that involving complex understandings and grammatical nuances can prove problematic. Download a free copy of the Lesson Planning Guide for Students with Fragile X Syndrome from The National Fragile X Foundation website.
The problems faced here by FXS children are thought to be with the type of reasoning required, and with the usually sequential nature of the thinking required, although, of course, other FXS characteristics – such as attention control – do have a significant effect. Essentially, the children are apt to lose sight of what it is they are being asked to learn, or even not to see it in the first place. They tend to go down blind-alleys, to focus on wrong or irrelevant aspects of the task. This is particularly so the more elaborate the teaching method is, because opportunities for going down the wrong road are that much greater. Direct, unequivocal teaching methods are suitable here. Generalisation of such skills should develop from this. Once the child has acquired the skill (such as unit addition) he or she is in a better position to acquire understanding through applying that skill in a range of appropriate circumstances. Like most, if not all, children, those with FXS will learn more and faster the more their attention is engaged by a well-presented task. Teachers are skilled in such presentations and know of many suitable techniques and materials. The usual range found in most schools should be appropriate.
It should not be assumed that because of their speech and language difficulties children with FXS will be poor readers. The approach to reading in most schools can provide a basic foundation for reading in FXS children.
However, it may be useful to note that there is some evidence to suggest the children learn better through visual based approaches compared with more auditory based approaches. Thus, for example, learning a sight vocabulary is usually significantly easier than learning phonics, although that distinction may also be due in part at least to the child’s characteristic vulnerability to ear infections and intermittent hearing loss. Nevertheless, reading schemes tend to be more successful the more visually based they are. As if to support this, FXS children often have a remarkable capacity for learning logos and environmental signs (bus stop, McDonalds, etc) and this feature has been used successfully as a basis for reading activities. Paired reading procedures, too, have been used with some success.
Computers have a number of useful features for children with FXS. They allow for endless repetition of a task, they are consistent, they have large memory capacities, and, especially significant for the FXS children, they are not personally threatening. Children who have difficulty with fine motor skills and learning to form letters correctly can have instant results in using a keyboard instead of a pencil.
Children with FXS are noted for their distractibility. To minimise this problem, work ‘packages’ can be structured for completion in a limited time, and, above all, designed to achieve the teaching goal with a minimum of additional learning required. For example, if the goal of a particular lesson is neat handwriting, it may be unhelpful to insist that, additionally all the words are spelt correctly. Spelling, or any other requirement, is best dealt with as a separate goal. They can come together when the skills are established. It is recommended that work sessions last no more than ten to fifteen minutes for a given task, unless the child shows an interest in going further. More than this is unlikely to maintain the child’s attention. Teachers often express concern that they do not seem to be doing as much as they would like, or that the FXS child has not made as much progress as his or her classmates. This is not something to worry about if the teacher is confident the child’s attention has been usefully engaged at points during the day. Nobody can work all the time, and like other young children, children with FXS need opportunities to explore freely – but they will get more from such explorations the more curriculum skills they have.