[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]
In the last week I have read four socialization articles for special needs children. Each article spoke about the importance of preparing special needs children for experiences in socialization, whether that be an immersion classroom, the cafeteria or going through the hallways at school . Each of these four articles touched on tips on how to teach different types of special needs children the basics of eye contact, verbalization and introducing the rhythm of appropriate conversation.
But what about the mainstream children? What about teaching them?
In my eighteen years of teaching I have noticed a disturbing trend of special needs children being kept in seclusion, away from the general population. In some districts, there are even specific schools that children with special needs must attend, where only special needs children are allowed. And I’m not only speaking about profound special needs children. I understand the importance of having specialized equipment and specialized instruction and specialized areas specifically designated for OT, PT , speech and the like, but I also think that our non-special needs children are missing out on some very important socialization skills themselves. Not to mention some very important blessings.
My best friend has a special needs daughter. An absolute miracle baby. She was born at 24 weeks, and survived. She is a happy, giggly 15-year-old young lady. She is also deaf and blind and uses a wheelchair when traveling to the grocery store, the mall or any other long distances that would tire her quickly if she had to walk. I make it a point to watch other people, mainly adults, as they watch her and her family when they are out and about. I watch them stare. I watch them quickly avoid making eye contact. I watch them avoid her.
And it breaks my heart.
She was diagnosed with epilepsy last year. When I met the family at the hospital after a severe seizure episode, I was shocked when one of the doctors left her uncovered, bare chest exposed on the emergency room table… as if because she was special needs, she didn’t deserve the dignity that other children her age would have received; or because she was deaf and blind, that she wouldn’t know the difference anyway.
I have had several special needs children come and go in my multi-level classroom. One I have had for five years. Each year, as I get some new kids in my classroom, I always make it a point to emphasize that every child can learn, and that we all learn differently and through different methods. I don’t tolerate staring, snickering, name-calling or any type of disrespectful behavior toward him, or any other student for that matter. I encourage the kids to invite him to play games, give him high fives, encourage him; treat him just like they would any other student. People are people. Special needs should not be allowed to define a person as any less of a person.
Because I have a multi-level classroom and loop with my students for several years, I have a bit of an advantage. So how can teachers help their non-special needs students prepare for special needs children who are placed in their classroom with or without an assistant? How can students be taught to appreciate the differences of others, when so many schools are trying to fit kids into a box?
First, remind your students that it’s okay to ask questions about the student. If the special needs child is able to answer his or her own questions, help students develop a kind way to ask the student about his or her disability. And have the special needs child ask questions about the other students. You’d be very surprised at the results. We all know that children are naturally curious beings. Use this curiosity to your, and the other students’, advantage. You may have to help them form the way to ask the question, but that’s okay.
Next, encourage children to interact with your special needs kids. Students need to be TAUGHT how to approach differences. Place children’s in small groups or games, rotate groupings often and encourage interaction within the groups. If your special needs child has an assistant, help the assistant remember to include other students in the academic process, and remind the assistant that socialization is part of the academic process.
Finally, be patient with your students. If they are not used to being around special needs children, gently remind them about your classroom expectations. We expect ALL children to be kind, respectful, mannerly and appropriate in our classrooms, to EVERYONE. Your special needs child is part of your classroom.
Our children (and even adults) need to be taught how to respond to special needs children. They need to understand about special needs people in general and that there is nothing to fear about a special needs person. Most troubling behavior comes from people being fearful about special needs children. They may look different, act different, sound different, smell different. They may be ‘outside of the box’ that so many schools are trying to form for kids to fit into. But when we get down to it, we all have our differences.
Knowledge is power.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]