Including Students with Down Syndrome in Adventure Programming: These Activities Promote Positive Social Skills between Students with Down Syndrome and Their Peers, Enhancing Everyone's Enjoyment and Learning

Article excerpt

It is not uncommon to walk into a gymnasium and see a student with Down syndrome (DS) interacting freely with his or her peers. Approximately one out of every 1,000 children in the United States is born with DS, making them one of the largest school populations (Roizen, 2002). Often described as friendly and engaging, students with DS score high on measures of social competence and show strength in visual-motor skills, enabling them to interact with and feel like a part of their learning environment (Begley, 1999; Rosner, Hodapp, Fideler, Sagun, & Dykerns, 2004).

Focusing on constructive, competent behaviors helps students with DS to gain a sense of mastery within the social fabric of the school. Social skills facilitate adaptive behaviors, which include self-direction and goal setting, interpersonal relationships, and the practical skills needed for staying safe (Batshaw & Shapiro, 2002). The extent to which a student with DS is effectively included in the gymnasium is influenced by a number of key factors that relate to both the teacher and the student (Suomi, Collier, & Brown, 2003). Inclusion is more likely to be successful when the teacher is invested in the student's learning experiences and it responsive to the student's skills. Student success is also affected by his or her ability to communicate with peers, read social cues, and problem-solve. When interactions are structured in such a way that students actively engage with their peers, students come to understand individual differences and how best to communicate with their classmates. One curriculum that physical educators can use to promote positive social skills between students with DS and their peers is adventure programming.

Adventure Programming

Adventure programming combines experiential learning, physical activity, and group facilitation techniques that physical education teachers can implement as a way to build an inclusive classroom (Merrell & Gimpel, 1998). It is especially relevant for students with DS because the cooperative nature of the activities allows students to take risks and solve problems in ways that promote high levels of enthusiasm and participation (Welby & Saum, 2000). Students assume increased responsibility as they pass through relationship stages that focus on individual identity within the context of group cohesiveness and success (Glass & Benshoff, 2002). In addition, the tasks within adventure programming are typically non-competitive and are performed in a predictable environment. Through the modification of outcomes and specific accommodations within the curriculum, students with DS can access most components of adventure programming.

The Need for Support

In order for individuals with DS to be successful, Sherrill (2004) advocated a support paradigm that uses levels of intensities that promote both functional skills and positive interactions. These levels range from intermittent to pervasive and include the assistance of direct and related service providers such as physical education teachers, adapted physical educators, speech and physical therapists, paraprofessionals, and peer tutors. When identifying levels of support, factors to consider include the sources of support and the role that participation plays in other general education subject areas.

Adult Support. In order to include students with DS in the general education curriculum, teachers should consult with individuals who know the student well. If situations allow for team teaching, instructional responsibilities should be shared between teachers as a way for students to receive more face-to-face contact and feedback. When available, collaboration between general and adapted physical education teachers through ongoing discussions and support for nondisabled students will enable all students to develop skills while promoting positive relationships (Block, 2000; Sherrill, 2004).

Teachers should avoid the tendency to too heavily rely on paraprofessionals because this may limit the social interactions with peers (Hemmingsson, Borrell, & Gustavsson, 2003). …