Behavior in School

Sometimes, behavior challenges in the school setting can interfere with the learning process for the individual with Down syndrome and their peers. It is important to understand the behavior and learn ways to prevent it or replace it.

Behavior Tips

Check out powerpoint presentations prepared for DSAGC families from Gretchen Carroll, M.A., Education Coordinator for the Jane and Richard Thomas Center for Down Syndrome on the hot topic of behavior (understanding it, preventing it, replacing it and responding to it).

Behavior Tips for the Preschool Years

Behavior Tips for the Elementary Years


Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati Education Resources

Joanie Elfers, School Age Matters Coordinator - Joanie has expertise in a variety of school topics. At no charge to families, she is available to attend school meetings, assist in IEP planning and work with educational professionals to achieve a desired goal.

Mariclare Hulbert, Outreach Coordinator - Mariclare engages with schools to provide valuable information, create connections, and expand the impact of our work and support. She is available to do "Peer Presentations" in schools to enhance students and teachers understanding of Down syndrome.


A Day to Day Guide by Andi Durkin

First Things First 
Before you can expect good behavior, you need to make sure you've held up your end of the bargain as a parent: your child is fed on time, gets proper sleep and is having regular bowel movements. Jett is not cooperative if he's hungry, tired or needs to "go." Along this same vein of thought: Make sure your needs are met as well. If I'm hungry, my patience gets very thin, very quickly.

Another aspect of meeting your child's needs is making sure your child has had an adequate amount of positive attention from you as well as an adequate amount of "power" or control over at least some aspects of his life. (The amount varies per child.) See "Addressing Control Issues" below for details. 

Make sure you have set aside some time everyday to give your child your undivided, positive attention. No cell phone, etc. Just you and your child, together, preferably with anactivity that your child chose. The time needed depends on your child.    

The Less Words the Better 
You'll notice that I use very few words to cloud this behavioral modification process (either for praise or correction). This technique is written for use with a child who has a digit span/auditory processing of level two. For level one, you'll want to use one word commands to make certain that he understands exactly what you want. For greater auditory spans, you can use more words as needed. (To learn more about auditory processing, jump down to the "Auditory Processing" section near the bottom of this post.)

It's important that you are not doing any useless reasoning or unnecessary explanation like about how you feel, etc., so the less words, the better. Also, ANY word/sound/reaction can be positive/negative reinforcement, so try to keep quiet. For instance, my husband would make a surprised sound sometimes if Jett did something undesirable. This very small action was enough reinforcement/ acknowledgement to cause Jett to continue that behavior. 

How I get the behavior I want:​

  • When he makes any "mean, non words or actions" like grunting, yelling, hitting/kicking, or spinning his arms/head so I can't get near him (to put on shoes or whatever), I turn my back and walk away without a word.

The behavior stops because he gets no attention for it. And this behavior is gone now (sometimes he tries again). Once he's quiet/calm, I come back and ask, "What do you want?" Only once he is calm enough to answer my question do I re-approach him. So if he grunts, etc. in response to the question, I walk away and try again when he appears calm (usually seconds).

  • Once he gives me an answer as to what he wants, well, then that's my bargaining chip. 

If he wants "sunbutter sandwich" or "go outside" or "read book" whatever, then I say, "You want a sunbutter sandwich. (to validate his good response.) Okay. First shoes, then sunbutter sandwich." 

I now get immediate compliance. He's learned to completely trust in the fact that, after he does what I want, then he gets what he wants. The key here is to ALWAYS do whatever you promise or it won't work. He has to trust that you will follow through. 

If I can't give him a sandwich, but I have toast, then I offer that instead. And during this time, if he starts to kick his foot slightly or whatever, the only thing I say is "First shoes, then toast." A major kick or whatever causes me to leave. I say, "no shoes, no toast" and I walk away again. Once he's calm, I'll come back to ask "What do you want?"

  • This is important: I avoid saying, "no" or "don't..." or "stop..." (except for like in #2 when it's calmly and clear what I'm saying no about and why). Because these words seem to shut him down and make him angry. Instead, I say what I want him to do: "put down arms" "walk slowly" "turn page slowly" "set down plate" "pick up toy." This method is called neurolinguistic programming. This very simple technique prevents a lot of conflict and helps me more easily get calm compliance.