School can be difficult for many students, but especially if they have a chronic condition. This article will address the common challenges of elementary schoolers with Turner Syndrome (TS) and how to help them overcome them..
Disclaimers: Caretakers, this article is not meant to be a replacement for medically based educational advice. Talk with your doctors and child’s school administrators to create a plan that can best help them overcome their challenges. Educators, keep in mind that everyone with TS has a set of unique challenges, and this article only contains some of them. This article does not replace medically based, individualized educational advice. Talk to your students’ families, medical professionals, and therapists to learn what plan is best for them.
Back to School
September is upon us, and many families and educators are getting back into their school regimens. For some, school is a much-needed return to some normalcy and routines. But for others, it may be more difficult to adjust and thrive at school. This is especially true for younger students with a genetic condition like TS. Children with TS can have a wide variety of physical, mental, or social challenges.
If you’re a caretaker, how can you help your child cope and overcome these challenges? If you’re an educator, how can you recognize your students’ needs and help them succeed academically? Let’s discuss some of the common challenges of elementary schoolers with TS.
Who Were the Teachers Interviewed?
- Nicole is a preschool teacher who finds her job “very rewarding.”
- Kathlynne is a teacher who loves to help students of all ages with developmental disabilities.
The Turner Syndrome Foundation (TSF) thanks Nicole and Kathlynne for taking the time to be interviewed and for their great advice for parents, caretakers, and educators!
Understanding the Common Challenges of Elementary Schoolers with TS
Our interviewee Nicole stated, “at this age, each child is developing and mastering new skills. They each will develop and grow at their own pace–whether they have a diagnosis or not. Also, it is not typical for children in preschool or kindergarten to have TS diagnoses, although some children in elementary school may have one.”
It is important to realize that students with TS will have a unique set of challenges on the list in the next section–they may have a few, many, or none. Equally importantly, since not every student with challenges related to TS will be diagnosed, you–the caretaker or educator–could be the one who recognizes them.
Educators, if you notice one of your students having some of these challenges, and they do not have an official TS diagnosis, mention it to their family. This could help your student get diagnosed and have an easier time getting the support they need to excel in school.
Caregivers, if your loved one does not have a TS diagnosis but has some of these challenges, making you suspect that they might have TS, consult with a doctor to get an official diagnosis.
If the student has diagnosed TS, tell their teachers, therapists, etc. as soon as possible, so that they are all on the same page.
According to Nicole, Kathlynn, and other sources, some common challenges for elementary schoolers with TS include:
- anxiety when they’re away from family and when there are schedule changes;
- hand-eye coordination and dexterity-based tasks related to motor skills (e.g., writing and buttoning);
- imagining objects in relationship to each other (visual-spatial processing), which can affect math, writing, drawing, direction, and grammar skills;
- noticing and understanding facial expressions and other social cues;
- understanding how time works;
- math (e.g,, addition, subtraction, shapes, sequencing and understanding abstract concepts); and
- short-term memory challenges.
How Nonverbal Learning Disorder Affects Children with TS
Nonverbal Learning Disability (NVLD) is a condition that affects the right side of the brain. This part of the brain affects nonverbal skills, such as attention, organization, and executive functioning skills (e.g., paying attention, organization, focusing on tasks, managing emotions).
As Nicole mentioned, “Some of the challenges girls with TS can face are related to Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NVLD).” According to her, the NVLD Project, Dean Mooney, and TSF’s NVLD page, some common challenges for those with NVLD may include:
- using scissors, tying shoelaces, and other fine motor skills;
- riding a bike and other gross motor skills;
- stumbling and bumping into people and things, due to a lack of spatial awareness;
- organizing, planning, and multitasking;
- interpreting nonverbal communication (e.g., facial expressions, posture, tone of voice, etc.);
- staying focused and remembering information, especially visual;
- understanding and managing social cues, interactions, and relationships;
- becoming overwhelmed and understanding new situations;
- understanding idioms, humor, and sarcasm in different situations;
- reading comprehension skills–especially understanding the main points admit many things happening at once, like pictures, charts, and paragraphs;
- essay writing–especially organizing thoughts and writing them in essay form;
- reading and understanding maps, graphs, charts, and diagrams; and
- math skills (understanding fractions, geometric shapes, and word problems).
For Parents & Caregivers
According to various sources and the teachers interviewed, the following tips can help your child with TS succeed in elementary school.
- Ask your child’s school to give them psychoeducational, IQ, and basic academic skill development evaluations. Then you will know what your child’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses are and how they affect their academic skills.
- After taking these tests, talk with the school about accommodations that can help your child excel, such as untimed testing and using a word processor to take notes.
- Advocate for your child’s needs by discussing their struggles due to TS, what accommodations they may need to excel academically, etc. This will help put everyone on the same page regarding your child’s needs and how you can cooperate to ensure they are met. It will also help spread TS awareness.
- Make and continue to build a support network to help your child succeed. This can include you, teachers, doctors, therapists, and others. With this support system, your child is more likely to reach their full academic potential.
- If your child with TS struggles with scheduling their homework time, help them make a list of assignments they need to complete, the due dates, and how other activities will fit into their day.
- As your child gets older, let them take more control over the homework scheduling. As Kathlynne says, it helps them “feel supported and confident,” and “gives the child some autonomy and help with letting them know they have school the next day.”
- If your child with TS struggles with organization, use binders or folders to color code certain subjects to help them stay organized. Let them choose the colors they want for each subject.
- If they’re having trouble with something in school, encourage your child to ask for help from you, their teachers, other students, or other appropriate professionals.
- As mentioned above, anxiety could be a challenge for your child. Kathlynne suggested that, if they’re anxious about something, “read children’s stories related to the concern. For example, if the child has low self-esteem, reading a children’s story about that could help. For a preschooler or Kindergartener, reading a story about going to school can be helpful.”
- Kathlynne also noted that you can help reduce anxiety for your child by discussing what happened at school with them. Ask them what the best and worst parts were. Then, as she noted, “give guidance.”
- Help your child join a TS support group so they can develop their social skills and realize that they’re not alone in their struggle.
- When you’re comfortable talking about it with your child, explain what TS is in an age-appropriate way they’d understand. This will not only give your child clarity on why they struggle with certain things, but it might give them the courage to spread TS awareness at school and other places.
- Recognize both the strengths and weaknesses of your child with TS. As Nicole noted, this is “extremely important.”
- Nicole also said that it’s “important to consider the whole child, including physical, emotional, and mental health”.
- Praise and reward your child. Kathlynne offered, “Be positive and celebrate the big and small and big wins at every age and stage.” This will help motivate them to overcome their challenges and increase their self-confidence.
Following are some tips for educators to help with the common challenges of elementary schoolers with TS, according to the teachers we interviewed.
Do Your Research
- Be an advocate for your students. Learn about TS and how you can help the TS community.
- Use your knowledge and skills to educate other teachers and school professionals about TS and how students can be affected by the condition.
- Spread awareness about how crucial it is to understand how this condition affects a student’s ability to learn.
Help Create an Inclusive Environment
- Try to create a calming, quiet environment to not overwhelm students with TS or others.
- When a student with TS is taking a test, place them in an environment away from noise and distractions.
- If you assign seating, seat the student with TS near you. That may limit the number of distractions that hinder them from learning the material. It can also help them feel more included in class while learning.
- Give extended time for the tests the student with TS must take so they feel confident about taking them.
- Ensure that your classroom is an inclusive, respectful, environment for those of all abilities, including those with TS. You can do this by making accommodations and applying them to your teaching. As Nicole noted, this is “extremely important.” It helps your students feel more welcome and grow comfortably.
- When asking students with TS a question, give them more time to respond so they get less overwhelmed.
- Encourage relationships between the students with TS and their peers. This will help teach your students with TS conversation skills and make them feel more included in the classroom. Try role-playing, group projects with premade questions and other opportunities to socialize during class.
Help Students with TS Build Their Skills
- Use clear, simple language. This makes it easier for students with TS to understand important concepts.
- Whenever possible, present little bits of information at a time. This helps students with TS stay more focused and build their short-term memory.
- Give specific, exact directions about the assignments you give them. This will help students with TS feel less anxious and more confident to complete them on their own.
- If needed, encourage eye contact with the students to teach them that skill.
- Review the class schedule before you start teaching. Consider giving this information in an outline. Knowing what they will learn ahead of time helps students with TS develop their organizational skills, memory, and learning abilities.
- When giving classwork or homework assignments, split them into pieces, if you can. If you do this, students with TS can work on their organization skills by understanding what they are supposed to work on, the assignment’s due date, etc.
- Cheer on your students to accomplish their goals in their IEP/504 plans and praise them when they do.
Stay Connected with Caretakers, Medical Professionals, and Other Educational Professionals
- If you see a student with TS struggling with a certain skill, recommend their caretakers take them to a type of therapy that helps improve it.
- Keep the students’ families, medical professionals, and others informed of your student’s progress. That way, everyone will know how much progress your student is making with the goals in their IEP/504 plan. Also, everyone will know what they can do to help them reach these goals.
- As Nicole mentioned, pay attention to the overall health of all of your students, including those with TS. You, medical and educational professionals, and the students’ loved ones need to do what’s best for their happiness and growth. It’s hard to do that without taking a holistic health approach.
Takeaway - What You Can Do Now
Elementary schoolers with TS can face many common challenges to overcome to excel academically. We hope this article has helped you–whether you are a parent, caregiver, or educator–support your student with TS in reaching their full potential. Order a Pack of (5) Teacher’s Guide for Turner Syndrome
Written by Elizabeth Rivera, TSF’s Blog Content Coordinator, and edited by Susan Herman, TSF volunteer lead blog editor.
© Turner Syndrome Foundation 2021