As the number of students with special needs continues to grow, more people working in the education industry like coaches and teachers find themselves working with these kids for the first time. Most of these individuals are volunteers generously offering their time and experience, while others are experts in their field but have minimal knowledge of working with kids with disabilities.
Whether you’re a professional working or volunteering with special needs, the following are tips that can help you get along and work with these children with ease.
One of the most common mistakes adults make when working with special needs children is interacting with them in a way the kid isn’t comfortable in. In most cases, adults often ask questions, and for many special needs kids, such as those with autism, answering questions can be challenging.
That’s why whether you’re volunteering or offering reading programs for children with autism or those with other disabilities, get to know more about the child’s specific needs and introduce yourself first and explain how you’re going to work with them.
Additionally, you should explain the specific tasks or activities you’ll be doing with the child and guide them through the different steps from the beginning to the end—and make eye contact and wear a genuine smile to make the child comfortable.
Some adults may struggle to change the way they handle things when accommodating unique individuals. However, remember that the whole point of teaching is using different methods to help each student understand and master various skills at their pace. For instance, you’re likely familiar with a set of techniques that teachers use to help children let go of their parents when dropped off at school.
Bear in mind that kids with special needs may not have the same functionalities and skills as kids without a disability. That’s why you need to be flexible and adapt methods to ensure you include them in different activities. Help these children go through the various motions and consider assigning a ‘buddy’ with them to help them practice, and presenting varying topics in the form of a project or hands-on art task can make more sense to special needs children.
Just like with any child, consistency is crucial in efficiently working with those with special needs. If a set of rules gets presented to a group, then it should apply to everyone involved. Children with disabilities of any kind need to get allocated additional support whenever necessary to help them keep going. That’s why you need to keep track of students to ensure that each child’s routines are consistent.
Use the ‘Correct’ Cues
Using the right or correct cues in an environment can be the difference between participating or not when it comes to working with kids with special needs. The best cues are visual auditory, and tactile. For instance, some special needs children like to take photographs or videos of their favorite activities and look at them back later—while others may find colorful index cards with written instructions useful in remembering rules for appropriate social behavior.
Additionally, tactile cues such as offering cushions and blankets or giving them something to play with can be an efficient way to get their attention and mark transitions.
Keep in mind that some kids with special needs perceive sensory input differently, and most are unable to verbalize their discomfort and other feelings efficiently. That’s why professionals and volunteers should remember that all kinds of behavior are ‘communication.’ To ensure the kids you’re working with are happy as they can be while learning, keep a close eye on them and check for any behavioral changes differences in their actions. If you’re unsure how to interpret kids’ behavior, you can always ask their parents or their guardians for advice about their habits and personalities.
If you’re currently working as a special needs teacher or want to pursue this career, you may want to take additional training and qualifications to be an ‘SEN teacher.’
Always Have a Backup Plan
Professionals or volunteers working with special needs children soon realize that you should always have a backup plan or two. That’s because anything can happen with these children, and it’s best for you always to be prepared for things going downhill—and ensuring the kids can calm themselves down if things do go ‘wrong.’
Whether you’re a professional working with kids with special needs or a parent of one, the tips mentioned can help you make your life easier while ensuring they learn and develop as much as they can depending on their state.