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COVID-19:  e-Learning & Down syndrome

We know that many of your sons and daughters are quarantined at home during this COVID-19 pandemic.  This means that many caregivers will be tackling e-learning for the first time. E-learning is any education that is conducted online and can take the form of live teaching or non-live educational materials.  Some Internet providers are even beginning to offer free or reduced-cost Internet access for families experiencing financial stress. 

Our Down Syndrome Program at Massachusetts General Hospital spoke with Sam Johnston, Ed.D., the Director of Postsecondary Education and Workforce Development at CAST, a non-profit pioneer on universal design for learning.  Here are some practical tips for caregivers from Dr. Johnston and our team:

  • For your first week quarantined at home, the priority should be teachers, parents, para- professionals, and specialists communicating their presence, not sending out volumes of content.  Once your school has established remote learning, request a video chat so that your son or daughter with Down syndrome could see their educators and know that everyone is okay.

  • Caregivers could share these practical tips about supporting e-learning for students with intellectual disabilities with their son/daughter’s administrators, special education teachers, general education teachers, and educational technology directors.

  • The National Center on Accessible Educational Materials also provides practical solutions for educators.

  • The school should provide students with Down syndrome a structure for how communication and e-learning are going to happen. This includes the delivery mechanism, expectations by role, who and when students will be meeting with, what support person at home is needed.  It will be important for general education teachers, special education teachers, para-professionals, and specialists to agree to a consistent structure.

  • If possible, schools/teachers should give students with Down syndrome and parents a choice in how to participate in both live and not-live communication. (For example, will they use the chat function or raise-hand function if using a virtual conferencing technology such as Zoom?) There should be one primary point of contact at the school for technology-related questions.

  • Whether creating a video, connecting with students live, or recording a webinar, each teacher or student should use her/his webcam and have good lighting so users can see them speaking.

  • Educators should introduce themselves before they speak and have students do the same. This can help the teacher, paraprofessionals, and students all keep track of the conversation and may also allow teachers and specialists to assess if a student with Down syndrome is experiencing barriers to participation.

  • Educators should pace the delivery so that students with Down syndrome have time to digest what is being said or sent. 

  • Know the educational rights of your son or daughter while they are quarantined. The U.S. Department of Education has developed this comprehensive fact sheet explaining what educational rights are maintained for students with disabilities who have Individual Education Plans (IEPs) during the COVID-19 outbreak.  Here is more specific information to Massachusetts-based public schools and a quick breakdown on what this means for most students with Down syndrome.  

  • In Massachusetts, each district has a Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC), and most have an online presence on Facebook.  This would be another great way to connect with other parents within your district for ideas, support, and resources.

  • The Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress is also curating a list of educational tools and resources that might be helpful for your family during this pandemic.

These are unprecedented times.  Being a parent is hard enough; learning the new role of parent-educator is very demanding.  Educators should keep in mind that families are juggling multiple responsibilities. Parents should give themselves a break if the educational lessons do not go as smoothly as they would have liked!  Flexibility will be key in these coming weeks.

Let’s learn from each other.  Please share the creative ways that you are making e-learning work for your son or daughter with Down syndrome on our Facebook and Twitter pages.  Our team will tune-in for your postings!

Missed our previous e-newsletters on COVID-19?  You can find all of them here.

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