Remember the 5 ‘R’s – Learning by visual representation, routine, repetition and reinforcement/reward with praise.
Representation: Children with Floating Harbor Syndrome respond and learn using touchable props. When teaching maths, use objects to help build mental representations for the child. Visual learning is key to their cognition. Making sense of numbers and how they interact depends very much on this strategy. Using fingers should be encouraged also; anything that makes it interesting and fun. For reading and learning phonics, the use of pictures is important. This need for representation of objects and pictures is required throughout their schooling life; nursery right through to secondary/college.
Repetition: The set educational curriculum has to be adapted specifically for the FHS child. This has been reported in many cases and should be adhered to where possible. Typically FHS children really struggle to learn at the expected levels of progression set by Local Authorities in the UK. It takes years for the child to grasp the basic concepts of numbers, letters and the meaning of school. If the child struggles in Primary 1, they will be overwhelmed in the next year of Primary 2, therefore be prepared for covering the same material each year until there is a fuller understanding. It is not about going backwards in learning, far from it. Repeat the work and move up a notch each time, perhaps moving a reading book up to the next stage or asking more questions in a workbook. The FHS child will respond to recurring themes and gain in confidence and self-esteem and if they are accomplishing more each time then this is great; if not, go back to the work where they started and build up again. Repetition is closely linked to Routine, which is looked at next.
Routine: There are similarities with children on the autistic spectrum, in that the FHS child needs to have a routine and that if there is to be change, they are told about it in advance (and repeat). They expect life to be the same and can appear anxious and lack in confidence when challenged with something unexpected. If they are used to tackling a task in a certain way, then this is what they are confident with and crucially feel secure about, therefore if change has to happen, approach this in small steps, constantly reassuring the child that they can succeed. Strategies, including photographs and pictures to provide a visual plan of the day’s activities to avoid anxiety.
Reinforcement/Reward: Praising a child for good work done is well received by all, but children with FHS need constant praise, encouragement and reward. In this regard, reward comes from achieving set goals; for a teacher this could mean moving to a new reading book or by giving the child a ‘well done’ sticker. If the child is not progressing at the pace which the teacher sets, then go back to the beginning as stated in Repetition. Withholding or denying the child access to routine events, like break time or fun activities, will have a detrimental effect on the child, which should be avoided at all costs. Their understanding of why they are being punished is not the same as with average children. Learning levels will increase and decrease and there is no intention to deviate from the expected levels, rather they are struggling or are overwhelmed by the work.
It is extremely important to have your child assessed by suitably qualified professionals who are familiar with Floating Harbor Syndrome and the often ‘invisible’ issues that the child faces in their experience in an Educational environment. Specialist Schooling is advisable, as Mainstream Schooling often lacks the expertise required to properly manage the care of the FHS child, both emotionally and academically.
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