Guidelines for Teachers

When the program is in place and the needs of the students are being met with activities and lessons that that are meaningful, behavior problems will be minimal, and teachers are free to discover the wonderful joy of teaching. These guidelines provide the tools to bring success to both teacher and student, as one cannot succeed without the other.

Provide a Positive, Efficient Means of Communicating

Children with Down syndrome need an effective and efficient means of communicating in order to obtain control over their environment. The inability to communicate effectively causes great frustration in the child, and in desperation the child develops undesirable behaviors to express his wants, needs, and feelings. Verbal language is usually delayed in children with Down syndrome and this lack of expressive language interferes with all positive learning and the ability to function effectively in all environments. To support positive communication, the model programs provide:

1. We teach sign language is taught to compensate for the child’s inability to interact verbally. It enables the learner to substitute signed words for undesirable behaviors and enhances all learning. The verbal word is always paired with the hand signs.
2. We teach reading in addition to sign language. Children are taught to ‘read’ symbols, illustrations, and written words. They read symbols and illustrations until they learn to read words. Children who are not able to learn to read words will continue to rely on reading symbols and illustrations.
3. Total communication refers to combining verbal and signed language with reading symbols, illustrations, and written words. Total communication maximizes the child’s ability to learn and function effectively in all environments.

Provide Positive Social Interactions

The environment sets the emotional tone and provides the learner with the tools and opportunities to learn positive social interaction. Engaging in positive social interactions builds self-confidence, self-worth, self-image, and self-esteem. To create an environment that fosters positive social interactions:

1. Speak in a respectful, soft, pleasant, approving voice.  The adults set the tone by modeling positive social interaction, showing genuine interest in and respect for students—engaging students in social interaction and making it fun.
2. Keep conversations going—taking turns—provide child/adult/child/adult interaction. Engage children in conversation and keep it going for several exchanges.  Too often adults fail to engage children in more than one exchange—the adult asks the child a question, the child answers, and the conversation stops. The adult needs to take additional turns, and after each turn expect and wait for the child to take the next turn.
3. Keep your turn short and speak at the child’s level of understanding. You can speak 10 seconds, or 10 minutes, but the child is apt to remember only the last thing you say. Make the last thing you say, also the first.  You will lose the child’s interest if your turn is too long.
4. Teach him/her scripts to use in routine social situations.  We all follow scripts for most routine social situations—our parents prompted us, and we learned by observation. Teach students social scripts, such as: greetings and responses to greetings from others; the polite way to ask for things (please); and what to say when it’s given (thank you); how to answer the phone; and what to say when you leave a social situation.
5. Remember the ill effects of an aversive environment. Infants and young children, who are yelled at and exposed to aversive stimuli, actually have physical differences in their brains, differences that last a lifetime.

Provide a Positive Means to Express Needs

Most undesirable, disruptive behaviors are means of communicating: (1) I want out of something--the group, lesson, activity, class (escape behavior); and (2) I want something—attention, comfort, food/water, approval (positive reinforcement). To replace the undesirable means of communicating these needs with desirable communication, follow these procedures:

1. Provide a positive means to communicate these needs. For example, for the student that needs to escape an activity, he/she could be taught to sign ‘break’ or, if verbal, to say ‘I need a break’.
2. Honor his/her appropriate request immediately at first, to reinforce the appropriate behavior and assure the student that it is more efficient than being disruptive—this way works better. For example, he or she signs ‘break’, and the teacher immediately responds, “Good for you, you told me! Take a break in the book corner.”  (Some children may need to be escorted to the break area at first—on the way, the teacher is friendly and warm, praising him for letting her know he needed a break.)
3. When the desirable behavior is well established, build in delays. At first the delay will be short. Ask him to do one simple task before taking his break. When he can complete a simple task, or wait for a short while, extend the delay until he is able to last throughout the activity.
4. Meanwhile, determine why he/she needs to escape. Was the activity too hard, too long, boring, or inappropriate for the student’s ability?
5. Remember, you can’t stop students from learning how to get their needs met. Be sure that you don’t inadvertently teach him or her to use undesirable behaviors to meet these needs.

Provide Positive Means to Express Feelings

In order for children to express feelings in a positive way, they need to learn what feelings are and have the vocabulary and means to express how they feel.  Feelings are abstract and difficult to understand and need to be taught systematically. Guidelines for teaching feelings:

1. Have an on-going unit on feelings, teaching systematically, using illustrations, lotto games, and response cards. Start with happy and sad and gradually add new feelings.
2. Use feeling response cards to communicate feelings and to respond during stories (How did Papa Bear feel when…?  How did Goldilocks feel when…? How did Baby Bear feel when…?)
3. Embed feelings in activities throughout the day, sing When You Are Happy and You Know It; during snack/meal time use feeling words such as hungry, full, and thirsty; in greeting scripts, include, How do you feel? using response cards, such as, happy, sad, well, and angry.
4. Teach students to express how they feel when someone hurts them, physically and emotionally. When the child is upset, be empathic and ask him to tell or show—by pointing to response cards—how he feels (sad, angry, sick).

Provide Positive Means to Express Choices

Start by teaching children to make choices in choosing concrete items, such as food and toys.  Then move to behavioral choices. Most often children don’t know that they have choices, what their choices are, and that different choices have different consequences.
Guidelines to teach the concept of choices and consequences:

(1) Use illustrations to teach students what the choices are and the consequence of good and bad choices.
(2) Play games that require pupils to think and identify consequences for specific behavioral choices.
(3) Use gestures, ‘thumb up’ for good and ‘thumb down’ for bad choices
(4) Reinforce good choices with words and gestures (thumb up)—“Good choice! You put the books on the shelf!” (Teacher can add, I feel happy that you are ready for recess.)
(5) Use words, gesture (thumb down) for ‘bad choices’ –-“Bad choice. Now you have to put all the books away.” And add, “I feel sad that you can’t go to recess now.”
(6) Read stories, have students signal good/bad choice when the characters make a choice. (Was it a good or bad choice when Goldilocks went into the bears’ house?)

Provide Positive Means of Learning Rules

Civilizations have rules (laws) that bring order and safety to the community, and although most countries have the same basic civil rules, each country has additional rules that are based on their beliefs and values. It is our willingness to learn and obey the rules of other countries that allows us to travel beyond our own borders. Knowledge of and following rules is what civilizes us—it gives us independence and freedom.  Children need rules to help them be civilized—to know how to function effectively in society.  It has been said that living without rules is like living in a house without walls—just imagine how difficult it would be!

Guidelines for teaching rules:

1. State rules in simple, positive terms.
2. Customize rules for each class, depending on the developmental level and the abilities and needs of the learners.
3. Display rules, with illustrations and words, on a ‘rules board’ with matching ‘rules cards’ to stick on the rules board with Velcro; students can match, select, and name rules during large group time daily
4. Make lotto games with rules; students match, select, and name the rules.
5. Have consistent consequences for breaking rules, and reinforce following rules.
6. Show the student the rule he/she broke—or have him/her show you—pointing to the rule on the board; the student needs to see the rule and think—to understand the rule he broke.
7. Teach students to identify the rules others break—and what to do when someone hurts him/her.


  1. Oelwein, P.L. (1988). Behavioral management: Guidelines for parents and teachers. In V. Dmitriev & P. Oelwein, Advances in Down syndrome. Seattle: Special Child Publications.
  2. Patterson, B. (2002). Behavioral concerns in persons with Down syndrome. In W.I. Cohen, L. Nadel, & M. E. Madnick, (Eds.), Down syndrome: Visions for the 21st century. New York: Wiley-Liss, Inc.
  3. Reese, E.P. (1966). The analysis of human operant behavior. Wm. C. Brown Company.
  4. Sandall, S.R. & Schwartz, I.S. (2008). Building blocks for teaching preschoolers with special needs, 2nd edition. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.