...like me with the assurance that our children with Down syndrome will “make it” in our society.
She was possibly the first person with Down syndrome (DS) to have passed the PSLE, and progressed to complete her secondary education in the Normal (Technical) stream. Xin En is 20 this year.
Her parents shared fond memories of her childhood, the early intervention strategies that possibly worked, and how I may apply similar principles for my daughter, Kayleen, who also has Down syndrome.
Mr Chung Keng Yeow, Xin En’s father shared how their decision to let Xin En experience mainstream education was influenced by the success stories they heard while residing in the United States, of people with DS who were educated in inclusive environments there.
Strong support from school and family
Mr Chung emphasized that strong support from the Principal and teachers was pivotal to Xin En’s development. To help the teachers understand Xin En better, her parents would send them a detailed write-up which included her childhood experiences, her strengths and weaknesses and her learning styles at the start of each academic year. Building good rapport with her teachers was important in order to help Xin En effectively.
“… the teachers were very receptive. At the minimum, they knew more about Down syndrome(DS) and were less apprehensive of having a child with DS in their classes. Most of them tried their best to make her progress as much as possible.”, said Mr Chung.
As a parent volunteer at the school library, Mrs Chung had more opportunities to meet Xin En’s teachers. With open communication between the school and family, Xin En’s parents were frequently updated of her day at school. This helped greatly especially at times when Xin En was unable to communicate her teachers’ messages to the family.
Co-Curricular Activities (CCA) and enrichment classes
Mrs Chung encouraged parents to push the boundaries and maximise the potential of their children with Down syndrome, especially when they show keen interest to learn. Being involved in a few enrichment classes like Art, Swimming and Ballet gave Xin En more opportunties to pick up essential life skills and moulded her character in the process. Participation in the school’s Girls’ Brigade also provided many learning opportunities for Xin En to become more confident.
Realistic expectations by parents and school
Xin En’s parents believe that she will learn well in an environment where she is allowed to acquire social and personal skills from peers whom she can model after, and that academic achievements were secondary. It was fundamental that Xin En’s school was also willing to accept these expectations and to work hand-in- hand with her parents.
Challenges faced in mainstream education:
Many parents hesitate to place their children with Down syndrome in mainstream schools for good reasons as there are real challenges that face them. Xin En too, experienced some of these challenges. As Xin En was less verbal than her peers, she had difficulties communicating with her teachers and classmates at times. This led to some miscommunication between them.
She was occasionally a victim of bullying at school too, but often, her close friends noticed and helped to inform Xin En’s parents. Xin En also had difficulty grasping numeracy concepts, which is common among children with Down syndrome.
Laying the foundation
Mrs Chung mentioned that building literacy and numeracy skills in the foundational years can help the children greatly when they start Primary One in mainstream schools. Mrs Chung found that flashcards helped to develop Xin En’s literacy skills. The intensive specialised intervention Xin En received in an early intervention centre and the exposure in a mainstream pre-school also helped prepare her for primary education. It is evident that hard work invested by the family to prepare the child cognitively and socially can yield positive outcomes.
Path after secondary education
After graduating from secondary school, Mrs Chung focused on teaching Xin En the necessary life skills to prepare her for employment. Xin En attended a 6-week course with Dignity Kitchen and found a job thereafter.
When asked about the options available when choosing his daughter’s vocation, Mr Chung highlighted that as long as one is willing to work hard, there are many job opportunities for people with Down syndrome. This is also because more organisations are now willing to accept and employ people with Down syndrome.
I was very encouraged and inspired after meeting Xin En and her parents. There was so much hard work invested by the parents, but fruits of their labour were clearly evident.
Through Xin En’s experience, it is encouraging to know that with strong support from the community and family, coupled with a willingness to embrace the differences our children with DS come with, we will see progress. Different children progress at different speeds, and comparison is unnecessary. However regardless of the abilities each child has, we need to actively engage them in purposeful and functional activities.
As Lady Bird Johnson said, “Children are likely to live up to what you believe in them.” This belief will open opportunities for our children to be stretched further and they can grow up as meaningful contributors to society, even after we pass on.