A Snapshot of a First Grader With Down Syndrome

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Julianna head shotIt’s been a month of Tuesdays with Julianna in honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and I thought I would wrap up by giving you a snapshot of her academic skills two months into the first grade. Bear in mind this is only a snapshot of one child, a single individual; I know of children her age with the same diagnosis who are far ahead of her, and those who are behind, and others still who are ahead in some ways and behind in others. So this should not be considered anything more than a single example. Like typically-developing children, kids with Down syndrome have a wide spectrum of abilities and achievements. But for what it’s worth:

Speech: At 6 3/4, Julianna is now trying to communicate a lot by words. She’s developing coping techniques for the many times we can’t understand her–signs as backup, or pointing or showing us what she’s talking about, when it’s possible to do so.

Reading: This girl loves to read, and she’s good at it. The schools use a numbering system to indicate level. A couple of weeks ago her teacher told me her reading level was 4, and grade level was 6. Shortly after, one of Christian’s piano students’  parents, a speech therapist, read through a book with her during her daughter’s lesson. She said Julianna is actually reading at an 8 or a 10, but that fluency and comprehension are factored into the package and might bring her down. And comprehension & fluency definitely lag behind her ability to recognize words. That’s what her teachers are wanting us to work on.

Homework with DaddyWriting/spelling: Julianna’s weakest area in the language category. She can write the letters & numbers, but they are huge, misshapen, and don’t follow one after another, so it’s nearly illegible. Christian has been really good about drilling her on spelling words repeatedly over the course of the week, and she’ll know them cold, but still miss two out of six on the test, which we can only attribute to the writing hurdle.

Math: She recognizes numbers and can count one to one, but you can tell she doesn’t get the conceptualization required to do addition and subtraction. A few weeks ago her homework made me want to cry because it was addition problems, and I had to write out all the domino shapes for each number, and we’d have to count: 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3, now let’s put them together, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. Now they’re telling us to work with her on adding one to different numbers, just to get her to understand the concept.

Even so, she is still basically working at grade level. We’re trying to keep it that way as long as possible. Of course it would help if Michael Mayhem would quit ripping her glasses off her face and snapping the earpiece in two. Grrr. But that’s another post.

So there you go: a snapshot of one first grader with Trisomy 21. Any questions you’d like me to answer?

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8 thoughts on “A Snapshot of a First Grader With Down Syndrome

  1. You know, you can get your her IEP to allow verbal spelling tests, so her handwriting doesn’t hold her down. Also, she may not be there now (or maybe she is) but typing is another alternative. Starting in fourth grade, my son had an AlphaSmart http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AlphaSmart and he’d type his spelling tests, take notes on it, and type class assignments. The school system provided the AS and he really missed it when he went to Catholic hs for two years.

    • Yes, I know. We’ve already started talking to the teachers about it. I had a conversation with a teacher friend who thought it through and wondered, though, if writing is kind of the point with spelling–because when do you ever spell except when you’re writing? Once she starts typing, I imagine I”ll push very hard for alternate testing, but I guess I’ve figured in these early years she has to practice that skill as much as possible. And they aren’t getting grades, so I kind of shrug it off for now.

      • I think a lot of it depends on her. If she is getting discouraged because she misses items on a test because of her handwriting, then a change needs to be made. If she doesn’t know/doesn’t care, then push the handwriting for now. It’s a tough balance to achieve–what do you just decide is far more effort than it is worth, and what do you push her to do even though it is hard. With my son, the handwriting was clearly an issue that was holding him back (though he could write well enough to pass a spelling test). If this was 50 years ago, maybe it would have been a fight worth fighting, but today, with computers everywhere, I couldn’t see the point of struggling with handwriting when there were so many other struggles that needed to be dealt with.

  2. Renee G

    If it’s the physical act of writing that is causing the spelling issues, then the school should come up with an alternative – verbally, typed, using letter tiles, etc

  3. As you can see, I write a blog called IncredABLE Toys, about toys for differently abled children. Are there any toys or games that have helped Julianna develop academic skills? If so, I would love to hear about them!

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