Fragile "X" in the Classroom
Fragile X is the most common inherited cause of mental impairment and the most common known cause of autism. While there is no cure for the condition, it is hoped that further understanding of underlying causes will lead to new therapies. Caused by a defect on the X chromosome, the symptoms may range from mild learning disability and hyperactivity to severe retardation and autism. Currently Fragile X syndrome is treated through behavioral therapy, special education and medication.
Children with Fragile X tend to be very social and can benefit greatly from early intervention programs and contact with children who are developing normally. Fragile X children with an IQ above 70 generally do best when mainstreamed into a well-organized classroom environment, with individual help from special education professionals. Using peers to help teach often relieves some of the stress of the teacher-child relationship. Music therapy and sensory integration therapy help Fragile X children integrate better into the formal education environment and cope with its stimuli. The use of pictures, message boards, calculator and computers improve basic learning for Fragile X children as they have strong visual memories.
The emotional, sensory and social behaviors that go along with intellectual disability are mainly based on the child's frustration or anger at not being understood. These can be addressed in the classroom with the same strategies used for the management of behavioral issues generally. A teacher needs to have clearly stated rules and procedures with established consequences that are reviewed regularly with student input. The moment a rule is broken a teacher must pause and engage the student's attention. Appropriate behavior should be acknowledged or praised and Behavior Contracts established when necessary, following up with appropriate incentives and rewards. Consistent classroom management established at the beginning of the year and maintained throughout the school year will establish a disciplined learning environment and provide a reassuring sense of structure for special education students.
Classroom strategies for teachers to put in place include using hands-on activities involving a variety of senses, alternating quiet and active activities and being flexible in demands for sitting still. Music and movement should be used to motivate and teach concepts, and as a motivator when transitioning from one activity to another. Build on the strengths and interests of the individual child, allowing the child choice and a personal work space and an area where the child can go to regroup. It is helpful for a teacher to consider the similarities with autism and incorporate appropriate strategies, concentrating on the basics like social skills, paying attention, interaction with others and play.
A valuable online resource or educators is the National Fragile X Foundation which offers a lesson planning guide for teachers with a wealth of practical information including background facts on Fragile X syndrome, descriptions of behavior and learning styles, discussion of educational and community resources, and sample lesson plans for children with Fragile X at a variety of developmental levels. It is filled with practical ideas and strategies and, whenever appropriate, ideas that will facilitate the inclusion of children with Fragile X in preschool through high school classrooms.