Back to School: Resources for teachers on the Fragile X learning style
Learning can be a real struggle for people who have Fragile X syndrome.
The impact of the Fragile X gene on the brain presents challenges: anxiety, short-term memory & attentional control, hyperactivity and weaker executive function. Some students with Fragile X syndrome may have developmental issues including delayed speech, while others may exhibit behavioural problems such as repetitive actions and difficulty socialising. Processing sensory information can also be challenging for these students.
Learning strengths of people with Fragile X syndrome include long-term memory, associative learning, and response to visuals.
How do you structure a learning environment to account for the challenges AND capitalise on the strengths of Fragile X?
Strategies for success will include Predictability, Choices, Structured tasks, Calming strategies, Time for sensory diets and movement, strong and consistent use of Visual aids, and more.
The following resources will be helpful for teaching staff who have young or older students, and will be equally useful for community or workplace settings supporting adults who have Fragile X syndrome.
A. Top 10 Things to Know About the Fragile X Learning Style
These ten tips will bring our the strengths of each child or adult and minimise or improve some of the struggles they may encounter in a learning environment.
It’s also important for educators to note that the neurobiology of Fragile X syndrome causes a lack of focus and brings on anxiety when a person with Fragile X syndrome is given direct attention.
Download as pdf: Top 10 Things to Know about the Fragile X learning style
- Don’t force eye contact
Eye contact is difficult for those with FXS. It should only be stressed when teaching social skills. Eye contact with you may improve when the student becomes more comfortable with you.
- Functioning varies
Engagement and performance is likely to vary greatly. Each person learns at a different pace due to the developmental delay that is symptomatic of FXS.
- People with Fragile X syndrome learn the whole rather than the parts
Students with FXS they learn visually and do not succeed with phonetics. They are gestalt learners; good sight word learners, but have a terrible time with phonetics. They are motivated by the end result, and impatient with the process. Use backward rather than forward chaining; use checklists to show progress toward an end result.
- Allow and/or encourage frequent breaks
Accommodate attention deficits by keeping tasks brief. Keep up a good pace – power breaks are short
- Understanding verbal input
Provide some non-verbal alternatives for students during instruction, such as visual representations.
- Think “INDIRECT”
There are times when students with FXS enjoy attention, but most often they are adverse to the limelight. Give compliments in the 3rd person about the student to others within earshot; use incidental learning; include the student in a small group while directing instruction to a peer; avoid direct, open-ended questioning: prompt “The name of your teacher is….” Vs “who is your teacher?”
- Transitions can be difficult
Prepare for transitions by giving 10 and 5 minute prompts. In a primary school setting allow a child to be at the head or back of the line. Use social stories about routine changes. Provide a purposeful errand so the focus is on the outcome (eg. delivering an envelope) rather than the child moving from one place to another. When possible, limit the number of transitions.
- Include support services such occupational therapy, speech & language and physio
Sensory integration, speech and language and motor deficits need therapeutic attention. Integrating activities that are heavy work (like re-arranging desks in the classroom, cleaning windows, moving stacks of books) and provide vestibular input (like going for a walk, doing wall pushups, swinging, and using a skateboard) throughout the day can sustain a calm, regulated nervous system.
- Notice environmental triggers
Students with FXS often have sensory sensitivities to sound, light, textures, taste, and smell that provoke hyperarousal, which undermines focusing and the ability to learn. Make adjustments to the environment. (eg. dim lighting, allow use of muting headphones) as much as possible.
- Know FXS strengths
Common strengths associated with FXS are a good visual memory, sense of humour, desire to be helpful,
empathic nature, and gift for mimicry. People with FXS enjoy social contact and relationships, but miss social cues.
Use visual cues, make learning fun, provide opportunities to be of assistance, encourage providing emotional support to peers, use modelling as a primary teaching technique – embed academics into useful and practical tasks, such as taking attendance (counting) or ordering from a menu (reading).Adapted from “Top Ten Things for teachers to know about Fragile X syndrome” by Laurie Yankowitz, Ed.D. with input from Dr Marcia Braden PhD. March 2020
B. Introductory Guide to Educational Needs in Fragile X syndrome.
This short booklet from the Fragile X Society in the UK provides an overview of the Fragile X learning profile and some specific classroom strategies.
C. PODCAST: Classroom Adjustments to Support Students with Fragile X
This 25-minute podcast was made by the Victorian Department of Education in 2019, as part of a series highlighting adjustments that can be made in classrooms to enable students with disability to access and participate in education on the same basis as their peers.
The podcast features 11-year-old student Jimmy who says that he loves books. When he needs a break, his favourite thing is to sit on the giant cushions that have been strategically placed in his classroom.
Jimmy’s mum Sarah explains that while Jimmy is a happy-go-lucky boy, he struggles with sensory processing and changes in routines.
Specialist school teacher Jack Pitts explains how providing students who have Fragile X syndrome with a variety of forms of communication can assist with their understanding.
Occupational Therapist Beverley Kadish shares her top tips on helping students learn to self-regulate, and reducing anxiety in the classroom.
The podcast is available from Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts and via this link:
D. VIDEOS: DR MARCIA BRADEN PhD, EXPERT IN BEHAVIOURS AND LEARNING IN FRAGILE X SYNDROME
Dr Marcia Braden PhD is a psychologist and former special educator, based in the US. Dr Braden is known internationally for her expertise and experience in learning and behaviours in children and adults who have Fragile X syndrome.
Dr Braden visited Australia in November 2017, and the following two videos were filmed at our Fragile X workshop in Brisbane.
Daily Living Strategies and Successful Supports for Children and Adults with Fragile X
Dr Marcia Braden discusses the way that physical, sensory and environmental factors and developmental delays will affect daily living for people with Fragile X syndrome, and how this often plays out in challenging behaviours. By understanding that “they show us what they need” parents and carers can put a range of successful supports in place for daily living
Supporting the Fragile X Learning Style: Strategies for Success
Learning can be a real struggle for people with Fragile X. Strategies for success will include Predictability, Choices, Structured tasks, Calming strategies, Time for sensory diets and movement, strong and consistent use of visual aids, and more.
E. Educational Guidelines and Lesson Planning Guide: National Fragile X Foundation (US)
The National Fragile X Foundation, the family support and advocacy group for the American Fragile X community has a number of resources and links on their website, including:
Early Childhood Developmental and Educational Guidelines for Children with Fragile X syndrome
General Educational Guidelines for Students with Fragile X Syndrome
More resources from the National Fragile X Foundation, including a Lesson Planning Guide for teachers, are here