I have a nephew with special needs. He is a beautiful, caring 4-year old boy. He is also clumsy, he stutters, has a very limited vocabulary, and is constantly moving in an impulsive sort of way. He doesn’t understand the word no, he likes to dump things (including the contents of coffee mugs. His mother really likes that one. Especially when it happens on carefully cut out, ironed, and organized pieces of fabric for a quilt), and still isn’t potty trained. He has both fine and gross motor control issues, as well as what seems to be a central auditory processing disorder (non-diagnosed). (see this article about a woman living with central auditory processing disorder. It is one of the best descriptions of it I have come across.) None of this means he isn’t a bright boy. He is.
Have you already forgotten that he is a beautiful, caring boy? My hope for him is that the teachers he meets throughout the school career ahead of him have the patience and clarity of thought to see this bright, beautiful caring boy, to not let him be reduced to the sum of the descriptive elements I sketched above.
How can we ensure this happens? How can we create this particular hope for the future?
Research – do your homework and visit schools, meet educators.
His parents have already started the process by researching the best schools for him and meeting with his teachers before he began in their classroom to talk about his needs. Last year, though only 3 at the time, his needs were assessed and he began full-day schooling with educators who understand his need for structure and patience. They are also able to explicitly develop his fine and gross motor control skills as well as address some of his behavioural issues through a structured, goal oriented IEP (Individualized Education Plan).
Follow up – keep the lines of communication open
His parents have met with his teachers on an ongoing basis to have conversations about how he is doing and if he has met certain goals or if goals need to be modified. They keep the lines of communication open so that everyone is on the same page. They also talk about what he does well. They foster the beautiful, caring side of him.
Be consistent – follow the same plans at home and school
If educators are working diligently with your child, it is important to follow up what they are doing at home. Since my nephew’s behavioural issues are being addressed at school his parents can help his educators by following the same plans at home. Children with special needs crave consistency, structure, clear outcomes. Without this, they can spiral out of control and unwanted behaviours can increase. When a child ‘acts out’ he really is calling for structure in his life. When I showed this to my sister, for pre-posting approval, she commented with this:
One thing I would add is that the parents are often at wits end and when discussing the needs of the child in the setting of the classroom – it would be lovely if those needs could be addressed in the home setting as well. We are often asking for help with how to deal with him At Home. It is frustrating to always hear that ‘he doesn’t do that here‘. We are finally reaching outside of the school system and getting psychologists involved.
The teachers are great – and it helps to put his capabilities into perspective (often saddening) but they don’t come home with us.
It’s a good thing that they are asking for help from psychologists though I think it would be good to also have one of their teachers come home with them and show them what to do. If ‘he doesn’t do that here’ then show his parents how to create an environment where he doesn’t do that at home as well!
Be flexible – know when it is time to change
Flexibility does not mean let him get away with things. Flexibility has to do with understanding that sometimes structures need to change. For example if one of your structures for a child is to correct him when you catch him doing something (like dumping a coffee cup) and you feel that you are constantly correcting him, well, that particular structure isn’t working. Be flexible, change it to work for you and your child. If you aren’t sure how to change it, speak with your child’s educators and even his doctors. They are such an important support for you because they are not your child’s parents and so can keep a certain emotional distance that allows them to see what needs to be done.
Out of all of this, the most important thing is to talk with your child’s educators on a regular basis to make sure that his needs are being purposefully addressed both in and out of the classroom. As a teacher, I so appreciate those parents who do this – it makes my job not easier (teaching is not easy) but purposeful because I know that my work is making a real difference, that it is helping to create a positive future for the children I work with.
**Much of this article was included in Sam starts full-day kindergarten this September at Examiner.com