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Teaching a Child with Down Syndrome: In the Beginning

When my husband and I first contemplated home schooling our son with Down syndrome, we were overwhelmed. Even though I had taught many children to read, could I teach my son with special needs? Didn’t he need a teacher with special training in this area? What curriculum would I use?

The Lord brought Psalm 61:2 to mind: "When my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I." After much prayer and searching, the answer came. The Lord had blessed us with this special child. He would give us what we needed to train our son according to His will and in His perfect timing.

After we were committed to home schooling, the next step was deciding on curriculum. I consulted friends who were home schooling their child with special needs and others that I knew in the field of special education. The conclusion was that there was no one right way. What was best for one child was not for another. However, there were some guidelines that helped to form an anchor in our search for curriculum. We wanted to find materials that

are Christian in nature to help build character and present godly role models
give strategies for teaching children with Down syndrome
are phonics based but also teach sight words
are multi-sensory
will hold our son's interest and provide fun learning
provide a complete curriculum

We began teaching our son to read using the book Teaching Reading to Children with Down Syndrome by Patricia Logan Oelwein (published by Woodbin House). This book was a great beginning. It gave strategies for reading, spelling, and writing. Even though it was not a complete curriculum, we could apply the strategies to any curriculum we chose.

After looking at several curriculums, we decided to use the BJU Press materials. They met all the criteria we were looking for, and I was familiar with the scope and sequence. But we would have to adapt the materials. Adapt meant we had to spread some lessons over the course of two or three days. Adapt meant we used some different strategies to learn a particularly difficult skill. Adapt meant we did more drill games. Adapt meant I spent time at the computer designing sheets to provide further practice. In conclusion, adapting a curriculum meant more work, work to mold a curriculum to the shape of our son’s style of learning—mainly visual/kinesthetic.

We look at our son and remember that God does not make mistakes. His gifts are perfect. We are to be good stewards of the precious gifts God has given to us: all of our children. We need to tap first into the resource God has given to us in His Word for raising our children to serve Him. Then, we, as parent-teachers, must tap into the resources that will unlock the door of learning for our special needs child.