Debra L. Bosworth
Towson University
Professor Suzanne Bourdess
ISTC 201.469
November 14, 2001
Reproduced with the permission of the author.


This study investigated the benefits children with Down syndrome gained from being in the inclusion classroom. These children gained in language development, peer acceptance, and real world experience from being in the classroom during the years of kindergarten through third grade. The reasons for these benefits come from the students' and teachers' willingness to include these students in the classroom and other activities. Children with Down syndrome tend to gain social acceptance from general education students to the point where the child with Down syndrome is seen as just another student. This investigation attempted to display the positive effects of having children with Down syndrome in the inclusion classroom, and the benefits the students with Down syndrome gained from being in that setting.

Throughout history, students with mental, physical, and developmental disabilities have been isolated in separate classrooms from other students of their own age. The inclusion classroom allows the disabled students to interact and learn, in a regular classroom setting, with their peers in a non-threatening, adaptive environment. Children with Down syndrome are one example of those students that can benefit from learning in an inclusion classroom. Children with Down syndrome gain language development, peer acceptance and real world experience from being in an inclusion classroom during kindergarten through third grade. Many evaluations of inclusive education programs report positive effects on academic, behavioral, and social outcomes for students with disabilities, while no negative consequences for the non-disabled students are reported (Karsten, Peetsma, Roeleveld, & Vergeer, 2001).

Case Study

Jordan Caira is four years old and has Down syndrome. She lives with her parents in Framingham, Massachusetts, and now attends a Montessori School with general education students of the same age. Jordan attends Apple Valley Montessori School after her family won a yearlong fight with the Framingham school district to secure Jordan's right to be included in a regular classroom. Her parents did this because they felt that Jordan was not developing social skills in the public school, and the Montessori School would give her a better chance of developing those basic, but essential, skills. The Caira's felt that the decision to place Jordan in a "substantially separate" classroom, where she would interact with other disabled children for most of the day, compromised her prospects for growth (Cambanis, 2001). Jordan's first year in the public preschool program brought out the worst in the child, she would come home cursing, throwing tantrums, and wetting herself. After being in Apple Valley Montessori School for the summer on a trial basis Jordan's behavior stopped, toilet trained successfully and her frustration level lowered. This all came about because she was placed in an inclusion classroom. Jordan has been accepted by her fellow Kindergartner's, she received her first birthday invitation, and will be able to develop socially with children of her own age in a social setting (Cambanis, 2001).


Down Syndrome, discovered in the 19th Century by John Langdon Down, is a chromosomal condition that affects every one in 800 to 1,000 live births. It is caused by having and extra chromosome in the 21st cell, sometimes called "trisomy 21." Down Syndrome is caused by abnormal cell division before birth, where the 21st cell divides into thirds, rather than halves. Physical characteristics of Down syndrome are:

Many people with Down Syndrome do not have all of these physical characteristics, but they do help doctors, nurses, and other hospital personnel determine if a baby has Down Syndrome and needs immediate attention and care because of possible medical and health problems. Health and medical problems that usually come along with Down syndrome are congenital heart defects, higher susceptibility to infections, respiratory problems, hearing problems, and childhood leukemia (Laws & Millwood, 2001). Another major medical problem that occurs in about 15 percent of children who have Down syndrome is spinal subluxation. This is a partial dislocation of one of the upper spinal vertebrae. In approximately 1 percent of these children, the dislocation leads to a serious condition of spinal cord compression (Cook, Klein, & Richardson-Gibbs, 2001). With the advancement of medical technology the average life span for a person with Down syndrome is 55 years old.

Inclusion is defined as "teaching students with disabilities in regular classrooms, rather than in special classes or pull-out session" (link no longer available). Mainstreaming is placing disabled students in only a few regular classes throughout the day, such as art or physical education, not the academic subject classes. Assistive technology is used in the classroom to help those students that have trouble in writing, seeing, or hearing. These pieces of technology can be computers, special overhead projectors, video, telecommunications, or even allowing the teacher to wear a special microphone (Copel, Jeffers, Moeller, & Zorfass, 1996). Many times in the inclusion classroom an aid will come in to assist the special needs student. The aid will work on improving the skills the child lacks, and help their development in doing classroom tasks. Aids are very important to the classroom, taking some of the extra responsibility off the classroom teacher, and allowing the special needs student to have one to one interactions with an adult (link no longer available).

Educational Success

According to Becker, Dumas, and Roberts (2000) studies have demonstrated social, academic, and behavioral benefits for students with disabilities who are placed in inclusive settings, without negatively impacting the educational experience of the other students. Many children with Down syndrome, if they were in the special education or self-contained classroom, would not have the same amount of language development as their non-disabled peers. They would not have the same amount of time spend on verbal language development. "The learning characteristics of students with Down Syndrome are more similar to their regular education peers than they are different. However, language and motivational deficiencies may necessitate more highly structured, sequenced activities, with smaller bits of information presented at a time, and lots of rewards and praise built into the design of the lesson" (Wolpert, 2001). In an inclusion classroom the students learn the same things as their peers, so they have an opportunity to participate in the verbal language, by learning new vocabulary and building a larger vocabulary due to this opportunity. In a personal interview on November 28, 2001, Jennifer Mineart, a mother of a 4-year-old with Down syndrome, said, "Inclusion is the most valuable thing there is." Her son, Nicky attends Rockburn Elementary School, and is in an inclusion classroom. Being in the inclusion classroom has allowed Nicky's verbal language to develop in just the past year alone. He no longer grunts or groans to get what he wants, he uses what his mother calls, "His words." Because the students are around "normal" speech (local speech and dialect) listening to other students influences the Down Syndrome students to annunciate and pronounce words. According to Laws and Millwood (2001), "Overall parents were relatively positive about school" (p. 216). The mother of Daniel stated, "The development of language has just been tremendous because he has been surrounded by normal speech- bombarded with it six hours a day," (Davern & Schnorr, 1991, p. 23). Gains in verbal and language development allow the student with Down syndrome to develop his or her thinking and adapting skills. Nicky, the son of Jennifer Mineart, can recite the alphabet, repeat numbers from 1 to 20, and he can identify colors. He also uses a lot of mimicking to do the same actions the other students in the class do, for example; cutting with scissors, or using a glue stick. The students with Down syndrome use their cognitive abilities, which are developed throughout the school year to adapt to classroom assignments and situations to fit their needs. One of the most effective, yet simplest, techniques for supporting the learning of children with cognitive disabilities is repetition. Simply repeating key words or movements an extra time or two can significantly increase the child's opportunity to learn (Cook et al., 2001). The ability for the student with Down syndrome to participate in the class also allows them to learn the same material. They are given modified worksheets and tasks to complete, but the material is essentially the same, and all the students are learning the same things, just in different ways. Behavioral development is also gained in the inclusion classroom setting. Many students with Down syndrome have severe behavioral disorders when they first enter the general education classroom. According to Wolpert's (2001) study, teachers did not have to modify their behavior management systems for adequate class control when a child with Down syndrome was added to the class. The children with Down syndrome responded to the same behavior management techniques as the rest of the class. Peter, for example, when he started in his third grade inclusion classroom would hit, kick, spit on, and bite his fellow classmates. By the time the end of the year came around the incidents of poor behavior were rarely seen, because Peter learned that those behaviors were unacceptable (Goodwin & Wurzburg, 1992). Jordan, from the Apple Valley Montessori School, went from regression, in her behavior and toilet training, in a special education classroom, to progression in an inclusion classroom. She learned appropriate social and class behavior from the example of her fellow classmates (Cambanis, 2001). Inclusion classrooms allow students with Down syndrome to gain in language, cognitive, and behavioral development, so they can fully interact with their teachers and fellow classmates.

Social Success Outside the Classroom

"Special-needs students educated in regular classes do better academically and socially than students in non-inclusive settings," (Kartsen et al., 2001). Being in the inclusion classroom does not only allow the Down syndrome student to learn educational facts, but also allows them to learn how to be successful outside the classroom. Their language development in school allows the students to communicate with other students. Peter would use his verbal skills at home and in the classroom. He became more sociable and his behavior was acceptable once he learned how to act. He was able to express his feeling of sadness, anger, happiness, and confusion. At recess, Peter would play along with his classmates, instead of wrecking their board games, or purposely sabotaging the girls playing jump rope (Goodwin & Wurzburg, 1992). The non-disabled students in the inclusion classroom eventually look at the disabled student as just another classmate, and not someone with a disability. "She's real nice, you know. The way she used to walk in and yell 'hi' to everybody... It's pretty good to have her in class. I was kind of helping her in the beginning. One time, I was helping her and she was helping me- you know how she does it. I think we were doing abstract or asymmetrical forms on paper. And she was having a fun time. This student viewed her classmate as a 'fun person,'" (Davern & Schnorr, 1991, p. 23). Once the students become accustomed to having a disabled student in the classroom they do not see them as different, but as just another classmate. Personal success comes when the disabled students are seen as students, not someone different. For Jordan, it was getting invited to a birthday party to see her personal success in being accepted by society. For Nicky this will come, as his mother says, "When Nicky is in first grade and a student asks, 'What's wrong with him?' the child that's been in his class for a few years will respond, 'Nothing's wrong with him, that's just Nicky. Let's go play.'" The teachers, students, and the other students' parents accept the child, and subsequently they become accepted by the community. This gives the Down syndrome children positive self-esteem and makes them want to continue to succeed in school and society.


The Down syndrome student benefits from the inclusion classroom in many ways. They gain language skills to use inside and outside the classroom. Peers accept the child. They become part of the community, therefore gaining access to the real world and learning about society. Not only do Down Syndrome students benefit from the inclusion classroom experience, but the inclusion teacher and all the other students in the classroom also benefit from the experience.


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Cambanis, Thanassis. (2001, July 5). Family fights for child's inclusion town girl would be better served in small program. The Boston Globe. 3.

Copel, Harriet, Laura Jeffers, Babette Moeller, Judy Zorfass. (1996). Successful long-term inclusion strategies. CDSS Quarterly. 9, 4, 4-5.

Cook, Ruth E., M. Diane Klein, and Anne Marie Richardson-Gibbs. (2001). Strategies for including children with special needs in early childhood settings. New York: Delmar.

Davern, Linda, and Roberta Schnorr. (1991). Public schools welcome students with disabilities as full members. Children Today. 20, 2, 21-25.

Education Week on the Web. (2001) Hot Topics: Inclusion. Retrieved November 2, 2001 on the World Wide Web: [no longer available]

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