There are several stereotypes about students with Down syndrome, such as the notion that they are routinely sweet and good-natured. Some teachers are surprised, then, when students with Down syndrome exhibit negative behaviour. Teachers and Educational Assistants have reported that students with Down syndrome can be stubborn, contrary and rude, and they are often deliberately disobedient. Students with Down syndrome also run away more than other students.
There are several contributing factors:
Some children with Down syndrome prefer attention and emotion, even if it is negative, over an absence of attention and emotion, so they engage in negative behaviour just for the pleasure of the ensuing exchanges.
Other children with Down syndrome need time to process what is being asked of them or something that has just happened; when they aren’t given sufficient processing time, they can be angry or rude.
Sometimes students with Down syndrome shut down if they are subjected to a barrage of language, i.e., “Time for Math, Zion. Get your Math book out. No – not that one – your Math book. Come on – you love Math; Math is your favourite, isn’t it? Let’s go – Math book in three. Three, two… come on – Math is going to be fun today. I need you to have your Math book on your desk. Make a good choice!”
Students with Down syndrome consistently demonstrate an impulse to avoid extending themselves to do difficult things. In order to avoid tasks that strike them as difficult, they overuse their considerable social skills. Sometimes they accomplish this by being distractingly cute (there are examples in the literature of babies with Down syndrome, only months old, blowing bubbles and successfully distracting scientific researchers from the experimental tasks they were conducting!). On other occasions, a student with Down syndrome will use their social skills in a negative way and say or do something rude or difficult that succeeds in getting them away from the task they hoped to avoid. Running away to avoid a challenging task or to have the fun and distraction of being chased is a common strategy.
At its 2019 Educators Conference, the Down Syndrome Research Foundation recommended the following resources on communication:
Kumin, L. (2001). Classroom language skills for children with Down syndrome: a guide for parents and teachers (1st ed.). Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.
Kumin, L. (2012). Early communication skills for children with Down syndrome: a guide for parents and professionals (3rd ed.). Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.
Kumin, L. (2008). Helping children with Down syndrome communicate better: speech and language skills for ages 6-14 (1st ed.). Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.
Pepper, J., Weitzman, E., & Manolson, H. A. (2004). It takes two to talk: a practical guide for parents of children with language delays (Fourth edition.) Toronto, Ontario: Hanen Centre.
https://teachmetotalk.com/ (Website of Laura Mize, SLT)