About the MDSC Center on Inclusive Education (CIE)

At the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress, we are acutely aware that students with Down syndrome and other intellectual and developmental disabilities benefit when education professionals and family members collaborate. With a keen understanding of the importance of this collaboration, the MDSC has launched the Center on Inclusive Education (CIE) to facilitate the sharing of information and resources in effort to best support students at school.

Education Professionals

In the current educational landscape, education professionals are challenged on many levels. Standards-based instruction has altered the daily instructional practices of teachers, which in turn has a direct impact on the ways that students with disabilities are accessing the general curriculum. The pacing of instruction in the general education classroom does not always align with the specialized instruction that students with disabilities require, and, as a result of this, students are given fewer opportunities to learn alongside their typical peers. Although federal legislation protects a student’s rights to be educated in the least restrictive environment and countless research studies have proven the benefits of inclusive education for both students with disabilities and students with a typical learning profile, research has also shown that without providing adequate resources, the implementation of a successful inclusion model is near to impossible.

Addressing this critical need, the MDSC is committed to partnering with professionals as they design programs for students that will meet their individual educational needs and provide them with the opportunity to be a valued member of the classroom and full school community.

With an intense focus on increasing our impact on the current educational system, the MDSC established the Center on Inclusive Education to create and disseminate materials and tools to promote educational best practices in working with students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including Down syndrome. The MDSC Center on Inclusive Education will lead the way in transforming educational access and significantly expanding the reach and distribution of the MDSC’s best practice expertise in support of students with Down syndrome and other intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Family Members

The Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress believes that informed, involved parents are the best educational advocates for their children with Down syndrome. Although educational advocacy is an incredibly important job for parents, we also recognize that, for some, it’s a very challenging one. To that end, the MDSC offers parents and educators who work with students with Down syndrome accurate resources and information necessary for developing strong educational programs that will meet the individual needs of each student.

In order for your child to receive the high quality education and supports he or she needs and deserves, it is important to build and maintain a strong, positive relationship with everyone who plays a key role in educating your child. We believe children benefit most from their education when parents and educators work together as partners, and each perspective is heard and considered.

MDSC Center on Inclusive Education Resource Materials

The MDSC Resource Library contains a myriad of resources for educators and families from local and national leaders in the field, including MDSC designed content created on timely and pertinent topics. In 2022 we added 18 new education webinar recordings! Some examples of the content include

  • Re-energizing Inclusion During & After the Pandemic: Creating Accessible Instructional Materials for Students with Down Syndrome
  • Teaching Children with Disabilities to Read During a Pandemic: At Home and At School
  • From Power Struggles to Powerful Partnerships: Understanding and Managing Students’ Challenging and Unsafe Behaviors
  • Addressing Common Roadblocks: Planning for Meaningful Learning Opportunities
  • Utilizing Routines to Support Independence and Skill Development
  • Developing Independence! Strategies for the Classroom
  • Planning for Meaningful Inclusion: A Protocol Driven Process
  • Identifying and Creating Accessible Curriculum Materials – Tips from Teachers
  • Let’s Get on the Same Page! Designing Effective Home-School Communication Systems

Universal Design for Learning Mini Course

The MDSC is proud to collaborate with Novak Education for a 6 week mini course on Universal Design for Learning (UDL). What is UDL? UDL is a framework to guide the design of learning environments so they are accessible for all students with varying needs. UDL aims to change the design of the environment rather than change the learner. Not only does it break down barriers to education, but it creates a path to successful inclusion. Students with Down syndrome and other Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities can highly benefit from UDL frameworks. The goal of this course is to understand how a UDL mindset and skill set can create a classroom full of learners who are engaged in grade-level standards and have a strong sense of belonging.

The course will meet virtually once a week, for one hour, over a 6 week period. Each class will include a presentation on a specific UDL topic with time for questions.

Course Dates: October 6th, October 13th, October 20th, October 27th, November 3rd, November 10th

Course Time: 3:30-4:30pm ET Via Zoom (Each session will be recorded and available to registrants.)

Cost: $225 (If you would like to make a payment via Purchase Order, please email education@mdsc.org to process the order. Once the PO is received, you will be sent a promo code to complete registration.)

This course is open to educators, administrators, parents and others interested in understanding how UDL can improve the education of ALL students. 

Course Outline:

Session 1: Learner Variability

This deep dive will talk about the range of learners within our classrooms, as well as some common myths on the term “average learner.” Together in this session, we will work to debunk these myths and recognize there really is no such thing as the “average” learner. We will break habits as we understand student individuality. Curriculums were developed for the “average learner,” but it’s important to remember not all students are serviced with one method of teaching. An accommodation for a learner with more significant needs could benefit the whole classroom!

Session 2: Engagement in the Classroom Looking to engage your kiddos?

Looking to engage your students? We will take a look at the three major ways to have an engaging classroom: recruit student interest, sustain their effort and persistence, and teach self regulation skills. There is not one means of engagement that will be optimal for all learners in all contexts, so it is essential to provide multiple options for engagement. Why? Because not all learners are the same! Now that you’ve hooked your learner, how will you keep their attention to ensure they remain engaged and motivated, recognizing that each student will vary in their ability to self-regulate.

Session 3: Representation of Diverse Learners

Each student is unique in how they perceive and comprehend information, so it is critical to customize the delivery. To reduce barriers in learning, it is important that information is perceptible by all learners. We want to ensure we use different modalities (i.e. vision, hearing or touch) and provide the information in a way that can be easily modified for each student (enlarge text, amplify sounds, etc.) This ensures the lesson is accessible to all learners, breaking it down so that it is easier to access and comprehend. In this session, we will look at how to customize displays of information, clarify vocabulary and symbols and illustrate through multiple media.

Session 4: Action and Expression

What techniques do you use to ensure students have what they need, when they need it? We must create a physical environment that works for all learners and reduce barriers to learning. Next, we will look at the multiple ways our students will communicate with us. We must optimize access to tools and assistive technologies, looking at the tools we can provide learners and how to provide support for each student to use these tools effectively and independently. We then can look at executive functioning – how we teach goal setting, helping students pick the right strategy to get work done.

Session 5: Becoming an Expert Learner

What is an “expert learner”? In UDL, an expert learner doesn’t mean the smartest or top of the class, but a student who is purposeful and motivated, resourceful and knowledgeable, and strategic and goal driven. In this session we will break down the final three areas that make up the expert learner process.

Session 6: Unpacking Voice and Choice

UDL is often mislabeled as giving choices, but it is much more than that! In this final session, we will discuss promoting choice in the classroom by exploring what our students really need and how they can communicate those needs. If we want our students to take ownership of their learning and complete tasks independently, we must gear the work to their preferences. What piques their interest, and how we want to use that information as a tool in the classroom?


Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative – Everything You Need to Know

Attend this webinar to learn about the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative (MAICEI) and how it offers INCLUSIVE HIGHER EDUCATION opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout Massachusetts! The presenter will give attendees a full overview of MAICEI. She will include steps on how to become a partner with the program and also how families can advocate for their student to attend the program.

Presenter- Mary Price, Director – Massachusetts MAICEI Programs

This webinar will be recorded.

NEW! The Learning Program Boston

The Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress (MDSC) and the 3-21 Foundation are pleased to announce the transition of the Learning Program Boston under the umbrella of the MDSC as of July 1, 2022. The Learning Program Boston is a parent-focused educational intervention program for sharing instructional strategies, resources and activities to improve academic outcomes for students with Down syndrome at home and at school. An affiliate-partner of the Learning Program™, a nationally-recognized model for parent-focused intervention developed by the Down Syndrome Foundation (Orange County, CA) this program is grounded on evidence-based approaches to teaching students with Down syndrome established by world-recognized leaders in cognitive research.

Help your child develop foundational reading, writing and math skills; our parent-focused intervention is grounded on evidence-based approaches to teaching children with Down syndrome between the ages 3-12! Parent workshops will track the academic calendar, beginning in September 2022 and will run through the end of May 2023. Each workshop will meet one Saturday a month for 2 hours. In addition, we will be offering two in-person* Curriculum Days for parents to bring their child to practice and implement all they have learned!

Please contact Carlyn Foreman, MDSC Education Director with any questions at cforeman@mdsc.org

*In person programming is dependent on the current climate of Covid-19.

Education Task Force

The Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress Education Task Force formed in 2009 to increase communication and collaboration between Massachusetts’ educators and the parents of students with Down syndrome. Comprised of education professionals, the task force provides quality information and ongoing support to Massachusetts educators and their students with Down syndrome. The group’s top priority is ensuring that students with Down syndrome receive the most meaningful learning opportunities possible.

Members guide the creation of education materials for the Center on Inclusive Education, including the production of a comprehensive Education Manual for teaching students with Down syndrome. The Educators Manual, which has been updated and published as a second edition, is a research-based resource guide that includes information, strategies and best practices for educating students with Down syndrome in inclusive classrooms and schools. The task force members provide the perspective of teachers “in the trenches” and, because of this, work hard to develop a speaker program for our conferences that will meet the needs of teachers working in schools.

In addition, the task force is continually seeking new and innovative ways to provide information to teachers in an engaging, accessible way that takes into consideration the great demands that are already being placed upon teachers’ time. On behalf of the MDSC Education Task Force, we want to thank all those who have already provided their leadership and steadfast commitment to helping students with Down syndrome reach their full potential. We are highly respectful of the hard work of teachers and look forward to future collaborations and productive partnerships.

Meaningful Inclusion Manual

Ed Manual Cover

The MDSC’s resource guide for educators – “Meaningful Inclusion for Students with Down Syndrome” -, a long-term project by the Education Task Force, provides a comprehensive look at the complex learning profile of students with Down syndrome, as well as providing information around best practices and educational considerations that are based upon research-proven best practices.

The second edition, which is available as a hard copy or digitally, includes current research and sections on grades 7-12 in almost every chapter and considers whether or not the suggestions are applicable to other states and other countries.

From the introduction of the second edition:

More students with Down syndrome are included in general education classrooms K-12 every day. Everyone learns when everyone learns together. Special education laws that fully recognize the benefits of an inclusive education for all students. Educators and parents are seeing first-hand that the inclusive classroom can provide a successful learning environment in which all students thrive and succeed. In fact, research in Britain has shown that students with Down syndrome achieve higher success when they are educated with general education students. (Bird & Buckley, 2001). Not too long ago many educators believed that individuals with Down syndrome could not learn to read, write, or do mathematics. Regrettably, these students were not given the opportunity to learn. Fortunately, times have changed, and doors have opened. With higher expectations, access to the general education curriculum, interaction with general education students, and appropriate supports, students with Down syndrome have demonstrated that they will make significant progress. Today, many students with Down syndrome pursue post-secondary education, meaningful employment and independent living opportunities. Inclusion is easiest when educators rely on each other and actively collaborate with the entire educational team – parents, general and special education teachers, administrators, and related support professionals. Efficient communication and collaboration between the student’s educators makes inclusion work. Some teachers may initially be apprehensive about including students with Down syndrome into their general education classrooms. Experience shows, however, that most teachers have the skills to understand the individual needs of students with Down syndrome and are able to teach them effectively and reflectively. We encourage you to take what you already know, understand the “typical” learning profile of a student with Down syndrome, combine it with the information and resources in our guide, and create a useful, individual program for your own student(s). As Michael Giangreco, PhD, University of Vermont, says, “A big part of successful inclusion is a matter of applying the knowledge and skills you already possess to a new situation.” We expect that there may be difficulties, but we also expect that the rewards will greatly outnumber and outshine the challenges.

Massachusetts-Based Education Resource Parent Volunteer Program

At MDSC, we understand the importance of peer-to-peer support and the value of personal connections, especially for parents as they work to advocate on behalf of their child at school. When a family from Massachusetts reaches out to the MDSC seeking resources and guidance related to education, they are paired with a trained Education Resource Parent Volunteer who will then connect with the family and provide personal support and applicable resources – including MDSC fact sheets and webinar materials – in collaboration with the Education Director. Initial training is provided for each volunteer on best practices in education and peer-to-peer support. For more information about the program or to be connected to a trained Education Resource Parent Volunteer, email Carlyn Foreman , MDSC Education Director, at education@mdsc.org.

“Our education resource parent from the MDSC listened attentively to our situation and was able to provide quality feedback and guidance at the same time offering up valuable advice and questions to ask administration given the challenges we are currently facing within our school. An invaluable resource when you’re planning your child’s education!”

– Robyn Granfors, mom to Claire

If you would like to receive education updates on all our program offerings, please email Carlyn Foreman at education@mdsc.org to be added to our mailing list!