“The education road map is full of twists, turns, and detours, with occasional back-tracking as well as long stretches of wide open highway.” – On the Road to Success with SMS: A Smith-Magenis Guidebook for Schools
There are strategies and approaches you can implement as an educator to strengthen your work with children and adults with SMS. Each child with SMS is an individual, coming to the school setting with his or her own strengths and weaknesses, personality traits, family supports, and life experiences. While the SMS diagnosis is an important predictor of a child’s potential needs, there is still plenty of room for individuality.
For the Educator
Developing a successful plan for a student with SMS is all about emphasizing the “I” in “IEP” (Individualized Education Program). What works for one student with SMS may not be effective for a different child. Data collection, ongoing evaluation, and the collective wisdom of the educational team are just as important as knowledge about the syndrome.
It’s likely that you have never worked with a child quite like your student with SMS. That doesn’t mean you lack the necessary skills, but you may need to sharpen your pencil and extend beyond your usual circle of supports and resources.
(What follows is excerpted from “Classroom Strategies that Enhance Learning for Children with Smith-Magenis Syndrome” by Barbara Haas-Givler, MEd, BCBA, and Brenda Finucane, MS, LGC. Please download the PDF for the full article.)
The Quest for Adult Attention
Children with SMS are very much adult-oriented, with a sometimes insatiable need for individual attention. This is a key personality feature of children with SMS and one that has important implications both at home and in the classroom. For the child with SMS, positive attention is clearly preferable, but in a pinch, negative attention may serve equally well in his/her quest for one-on-one adult interaction. He/she may seek to monopolize a teacher’s time during an activity, by verbally interrupting, asking questions, or trying to attract exclusive eye contact with the teacher.
The following insights may be helpful:
A Calm, Consistent Classroom
Children with SMS are very sensitive to the emotions of others. We have found that a calm, emotionally neutral classroom atmosphere works best for children with SMS. For example, if a child will not stay in his/her seat during a lesson and constantly jumps up to verbally interrupt or attract the teacher’s eye contact, the teacher might try to continue talking to the class, without reprimanding the SMS child, while physically redirecting him/her back to his/her seat. Whenever possible though, negative behavior should be ignored and redirected. Obviously, it takes a tremendous amount of self-control on the part of the teacher to continue calmly in the face of such disruptions in the classroom. However, if a calm tone is consistently set early on, the reward may be fewer outbursts over time.
A Small Class Size
Rather than working together with their classmates, many children with SMS seem to be in competition with them, seeing them as obstacles to gaining teacher attention. We have found that ideally, children with SMS seem to do best when there are no more than five to seven other children in a classroom, with one teacher and one teacher’s aide.
Reinforcers and Motivators
Children with SMS have some degree of control over their behaviors, but it is important to recognize that many of the negative behaviors seen in SMS have their origins in internally drives impulses. The manipulation of these behaviors by the child may reflect their degree of motivation in suppressing these involuntary impulses in the presence of one person versus another, or in the face of a specific reinforce (reward). Teachers need to be very creative to keep the child with SMS motivated enough to want to control his or her behavior. One strategy is to use reinforcers (stickers, individual teacher time, free play) during activities when the child is likely to get out of control.
Children with SMS seem to have difficulties in processing information that is given in a sequential or step-wise fashion.
One way to work around this problem is to use pictures or charts whenever possible to help the child visualize the different steps involved in a task or math problem. Children with SMS tend to be visual learners, and they often need to refer to pictures for guidance in learning a new task.
A child with SMS can often have behavioral outbursts that disrupt his/her learning and that of others in the classroom. We have found it best to physically remove the child from the classroom during these episodes, so that he/she can get the least attention possible and can calm him/herself. If possible, someone other than the teacher should take the child to a separate, uninteresting room for time-out. Many children with SMS are anxious to not miss any activities with their beloved teacher and may work extra hard at bringing the tantrum to an end.
Children with SMS can present major challenges in the classroom; yet for teachers who have faced them, the rewards of teaching kids with SMS can far outweigh the challenges. to borrow a phrase from the Peace Corps, teaching a child with SMS can be “the toughest job you’ll ever love”.
Resources for You
You are not alone. PRISMS offers a variety of ways for you to connect with other parents and caregivers of individuals with SMS.
We understand it can be overwhelming to understand a new challenging vocabulary and come to terms with the ways in which this diagnosis will affect your student with SMS, their family, and the support you provide.
Children with Smith-Magenis syndrome typically face delays in specific development areas. Early intervention is highly recommended and has proven successful for many individuals with SMS and their families.
Living with SMS
From Behavior and Sleep to Medical Management and Guardianship, there are a variety of factors to consider and educate yourself on when it comes to your student with Smith-Magenis syndrome.
It can be important to share information on Smith-Magenis syndrome with your local community or students, fellow educators and support staff who interact with your student with Smith-Magenis syndrome regularly. PRISMS offers awareness tools to help.
Be a Part of Research
Research leads to answers. You can learn about research opportunities for your student with SMS that can help to advance research for the community.
Attend the Conference
PRISMS hosts a biennial conference for the SMS community complete with opportunities to network and share with other families and engage and learn from professionals and researchers from around the world. Through the conference, PRISMS offers a Teacher and Support Staff workshop as well as funding for teachers and support staff to attend and gain the information and resources they need to best support their students with SMS.