The model program began in 1968 with a pilot program that was the first to research the effectiveness of early intervention on infants who had Down syndrome and it was the first to demonstrate that children with Down syndrome are capable learners and that most are able readers. The program was validated for replication by a US federal agency in 1975. Down Syndrome Program trainers have provided training in this model throughout the USA and in 20 foreign countries, spanning six continents.
The Model Program is based on providing our students with individually tailored early intervention and educational programs that will allow them to develop at their own rate and reach their full potential. This program follows the educational methods developed in the Down Syndrome Program, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington USA.
The same basic educational practices are implemented across two programs:
- Early Intervention Program, serving children from birth to 6 years of age, follows a developmental curriculum
- The Applied Academic/Functional Program, serving children 6 to 18 years of age, follows an applied academic/functional curriculum
Designed to Meet Individual Needs using Individualized Education Plans (IEP)
Each student has a multidisciplinary team that consists of the program coordinator, the learner’s teacher, the learner’s parent(s) or caregiver and appropriate support staff from the disciplines of physical and occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, social work and medicine. This team develops and implements an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) using the systematic problem-solving approach.
The first step is to determine the skills that each student currently has, and the skills that will be most useful and meaningful for the student to learn next.
- In the Early Intervention Program, we use a developmental assessment to measure the child’s performance in each of the following developmental domains - physical, cognitive, communication, social, and self-care.
- In the Applied Academic/Functional Program, we use an applied academic/functional assessment to measure the student’s progress in the functional areas of communication, social, physical, and self-care and in the academic subjects of reading, writing, spelling, math, science, religion and social studies.
Goals and Objectives
Based on the assessment information, we develop short-term objectives and long-term goals in each developmental domain for children from birth to 5 years of age, and in each academic subject and functional domain for children 6 years of age and older.
The plan for meeting each objective includes: the team member that is responsible for the therapy or instruction; how progress will be measured; and when the child is expected to meet the objective.
We use the methods, guidelines and materials described in the Model Program to implement the program plan.
We constantly assess our students by recording and measuring their progress for each objective. We use this data to evaluate the effectiveness of the plan. If the learner is making the desired progress, the program is continued. If the learner is making little or no progress, the objectives are changed.
Meeting the Learning Strengths of Students with Down Syndrome
People with Down syndrome have a relative strength in visual short-term memory, and a weakness in verbal short-term memory. This means that they can remember more of what they see than what they hear. Visual stimuli can last as long as it is necessary for the learner to comprehend, but the spoken word vanishes instantly. For learning to take place, information must be remembered and practiced in the short-term working memory in order for it to be stored in the long-term memory, where it is available whenever the student needs it.
Visual stimuli are used extensively throughout all programs, and they are always paired with the spoken word. Sign language, a visual language, is used as a tool to facilitate learning the spoken language and to provide a means of communication for children who are not yet speaking. Visual aids, such as illustrations, symbols and pictures define words, provide a tangible means for practice, and provide the student with a means to look up information they forget.
Reading, a visual language, is a strength. We teach it with the “whole word” first, pairing each word with an illustration, and adding phonics later. Reading helps students improve their articulation, learn to speak in sentences, learn subject matter, use computers, look up information, follow directions, function independently in their environments, and read for pleasure.
Applying the Principles of Behavior
We plan and implement instruction and activities to meet student objectives at each stage of learning: acquisition, practice to fluency, transfer, and generalization. Progress toward meeting objectives is measured by data and direct observation, and programs are continued or changed based on data. This precise, systematic method, ensures that all students progress and succeed at their own rate.
The teacher presents the information using visual aids paired with the spoken word. The student processes the information and responds. The teacher then gives the student feedback by correcting incorrect responses and reinforcing correct responses with verbal praise paired with a visual, tangible object such as a token or sticker.
We analyze and identify the sequence of skills needed to complete tasks, such as washing hands, brushing teeth, getting dressed, playing games, preparing food, and using appliances (phone, computer, copy machine). We develop charts, with illustrations and written words, that provide step-by-step instructions, from start to finish, based on this analysis. We post these charts at student level in the relevant areas for each type of task. Students learn to do these tasks independently by following directions. We use task analysis in vocational training to teach trainees the skills they need to perform each job task for which they are responsible.
We state class rules at all levels in a positive manner and state what the child is “to do” rather than what “not to do.” The rules are illustrated, with the rule written under the illustration.
Applied behavior analysis
When a student with challenging behaviors does not respond to positive behavioral techniques, we use applied behavior analysis to develop and implement an intervention plan.