Douglas Marston conducted a study to test an integrated learning environment’s effects on students’ academic success with special needs. The findings indicate that children in integrated learning environments experienced improved reading skills than those in strictly isolated environments. By surrounding special needs children with peers of
the same age groups, they are exposed to diversity. Their close contact with other students allows them to improve social and interpersonal skills.
This study makes us hopeful for the future of children with special needs. But the question is, how can we help these children be self-sufficient for their future needs? Can our assistance help them develop emotionally or academically? You will find the answers to these questions from this blog!
‘Special needs’ is an umbrella term for a wide range of diagnoses, from those that heal quickly to those that last a lifetime. In India, more than 14% of children suffer from psychological issues, and 62% of children diagnosed with psychological issues require special education.
In clinical terms, ‘special needs’ refers to individuals who require assistance for disabilities, physical, medical, mental, or psychological. Such children may need extra help because of their psychological, medical, emotional challenges, or learning problems. This term also includes developmental delays, medical conditions, psychiatric conditions, and congenital conditions such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, to mention a few. The assistance provided to children with such conditions allows them to reach their full potential, as seen from Douglas Marston’s study.
A child with a special need is severe when the child’s intelligence quotient (IQ) is between 20 and 35. While assisting children with disabilities such as low IQ, language, and behavior issues, there is a need to use the following:
task analysis: analyzing how to accomplish a task, what details to address, or include duration to complete a task.
peer teaching: where instruction and learning happens between students or where one child teaches other children.
cooperative learning: one of the teaching strategies where small teams of children with different abilities are grouped and various learning activities are used to improve their understanding of the topic.
emotional support by building their confidence, and;
use of multisensory approaches: which involves learning through visual, tactile (touch), and auditory (hear), making their lives easier.
All children need love, encouragement, and support. Especially to a child with special needs, extra love and care are needed. Positive reinforcement can help them emerge with a sense of self-worth, confidence, and determination to move forward even when things are tough.
To assist children with special needs, we need to know that we are looking for ways to help them help themselves. Assisting should focus on giving children the social and emotional tools they need to work through challenges; this can help children grow stronger and more resilient.
It is pretty common for a child who needs special assistance to go through some period of emotional struggle. It isn’t easy for them to see themselves falling behind their classmates at school. They might be struggling emotionally with low self-esteem, increased anxiety (particularly in academic situations), increased sadness or irritability, and reduced motivation. Even signs like crying or worrying can be obvious.
Dealing with emotional aspects while assisting a child with special needs is a great task. It can be hard to understand their emotions and deal with them.
Let us look into a few tips which might help us in handling their emotions.
Listening to them - Children need parents to listen to them. More than anything, such children need someone to sit with them and listen to what they have to say. Further, spending time allows them to know that they are important.
Teaching children to express emotions- teach them how to express their feelings. This might make them a bit relaxed with ongoing frustrations. Giving them the confidence to access people, places, and things that encourage healthy emotions is highly important.
Professional help - If a child shows signs of struggling with anxiety or depression, one can seek help from doctors, counselors, psychiatrists, or therapists. Seek out someone who has experience with the type of special needs that child has been diagnosed with.
Creating a safe environment- When it comes to special needs children and their emotions, they need a safe environment to release those emotions without repercussions. Make home an emotionally safe space for them.
Mastering social skills might be challenging for such children. This can be due to difficulties representing an intellectual disability or a language disorder. A child who has language delays may be slow to acquire the ability to name his feelings and needs. Because of this, children may find it difficult to make requests verbally and express emotions explicitly. This communication barrier can build into aggression and can create difficulty in building peer relationships.
Let us see how we can foster social skills with children who have special needs:
Visual aids- with the visual aids, we can make children learn to communicate with others. For example, one can use simple illustrations representing daily life activities and breaking down the steps associated with doing that activity.
One can use the following illustrations:
Two children are looking at each other. ( eye contact)
Children are smiling at each other. ( happy emotion)
Prosocial modeling- Encourage prosocial behavior of other children saying, “Good job, John, for offering to help Sam.” By this, a special child will observe acceptable behavior, and with time, they may learn to repeat it.
Positive reinforcement- It may motivate the child to adopt such behavior that gets positive feedback. For example, when they appreciate a child for his/her helping nature, they may adopt it.
We should be aware that delays are typical for these children in areas of social or academic skills. Thus, an educator or a parent must have certain rules that she/he must religiously follow to ensure academic skills are developed correctly.
Instructions should be structured to meet the particular requirements of the child.
The flow of instructions should be slower.
Give a child time to process information but also to reciprocate
A child may need repetition of trials before they finally understand a concept. So patience is the key.
Tolerance, positive feedback, organization, intuition, creativity, optimism, and love for children are must-have qualities.
In many cases, integrating children with special needs into general-learning classrooms has had many benefits (which we have seen in Douglas Marston’s study mentioned earlier). By surrounding special needs children with peers of the same age groups, they are exposed to diversity. This close contact with other children will allow them to improve interpersonal skills.
While assisting a child with special needs, it is essential to know that it is not something an individual can do. There must be a collaboration between parents, family, caregivers, special educators, doctors, and mental health professionals. Mental health professionals are important in understanding, explaining, predicting, controlling, and solving special needs children’s problems. A special educator assists children through unique instruction methods that help them achieve their highest potential and progress beyond their limitations. They create and apply appropriate curriculum and assign specific activities to each child’s abilities and needs. They usually focus on teaching children life skills and basic literacy.
Several studies have shown that parents raising children with developmental, behavioral, or medical needs often experience high stress levels, usually higher than parents who are not dealing with such children. To sustain the marathon of taking care of a child with special needs, parents or caregivers must attend to their own needs and focus on themselves.
Let us have a look at some of the self-care tips that can be relaxing and/or which has a big payoff:
Exercise has many benefits not just for our physical health but also for our mental and emotional health.
Nutrition- Eating healthy food can keep your brain and body active.
Sleep- vital to keep away stress and to relax.
15-minutes of “me” time- This time could be spent at a caregiver support group or connecting with a friend over the phone.
Support groups - A peer support network to help connect and share experiences. This will be the most beneficial support and may act as an information-sharing platform.
While we have certainly come a long way to reduce the stigma related to mental and physical disabilities, there is a lot more work to be done to remove it altogether. Taking the time to understand better the difficulties special needs children face allows us to take active steps in eradicating stigmatization.
How can we achieve it? Let us look in the following ways:
By educating ourselves - Education is the first step to solving problems in every aspect of our lives. Educating ourselves regarding children with special needs helps us to understand and find out more about them. This will help us to understand facts and avoid stereotypes and myths.
Being supportive- Treating them with care, love, dignity, and respect is important in reducing the stigma. Considering the way that we would want to be treated if we were in their shoes.
Spreading positivity- being positive when dealing with these children is important. With a positive attitude, we can improve confidence and inner strength.
Being careful with words- The way we speak and the language we use can significantly reduce the stigmas associated with disability. Ensuring we are cautious of unintentional derogatory language is critical to creating a safe environment.
Be inclusive- Ensure that we are always as inclusive as possible when dealing with everyone and keep our differences aside.
Life can be extra challenging for a child with special needs. It might also be harder to do everyday stuff like learning to read or reach a place by themselves or just eating. The good thing is that parents, doctors, nurses, therapists, teachers, and others can help. The main goal is to help these children to be as independent as possible. Having any kind of disability should never stop anyone from conquering the world. Such children should be given every opportunity without any stigma. The challenges should be dealt with, following their requirements, so that despite their disabilities, they can develop their cognitive abilities. Learning should be fun for both children with and without special needs.
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