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Embrace your uniqueness! Ways parents can help their child with special needs be successful

Erin Wiley, MA, LPCCWillow Wisdom

Getting back into the school routine can be difficult for all kids, but the challenges may be even more intense for kids with special needs. While students with disabilities are unique and talented, they may face different kinds of challenges throughout their day. These obstacles can make overcoming everyday activities strenuous for these students. Given the right strategies, students will be better prepared to tackle what life brings their way!

Having taught in a self-contained, multiple disabilities classroom for 8 years, I can only help but admire the students I taught for their determination and strength they instill on a daily basis. Along the way I have noticed what’s effective for students with unique needs in keeping up with the pace of a hectic school day. The following are some tips on ways to help students who may learn differently than others.

  • Visuals, visuals, oh and don’t forget visuals: depending on your child, many students benefit from the use of a visual, or in other words pictures. This may include a calendar, a picture schedule, steps to complete a task using pictures, etc. Students who are unable to speak or read especially benefit from visuals.
  • Sensory breaks: before or after your child has completed a desired activity, a sensory break can help stabilize a child’s mood and behavior. This can include a walk, a walk with a weighted bookbag, play dough, exercise bike, sand box, stress ball, etc.
  • Task analysis: in other words, breaking tasks into smaller, step-by-step instruction. For example, listing the steps on paper to tying your shoe, brushing your teeth, etc. You can even laminate the list and have your child check off the steps as they complete them.
  • The fewer the choices, the simpler the decision: giving kids 2-3 options to choose from. Any more than that can be overwhelming and just cause more stress.
  • What if my child is non-verbal, has a physical disability or cannot read? Students with physical disabilities can still be successful and complete most tasks given the right modifications. Given the material is close to their learning level, if a student is not able to write, the material can be read to them while they point to the correct answer. Even non-verbal students can complete tasks designed for writers by being given less choices and pointing to the answer. For example, if a reading activity has 3 multiple choice questions, modify this to two answer choices, read the choices to the student and have them point to which answer they believe to be correct. Also, any type of assistive technology can help your child receive better instruction.
  • Positive reinforcement goes a long way: offering any type of incentive to your child for completing a task can reinforce good behavior. This may include extra I-pad time, a fun activity or even just verbal praise. Utilizing a chart with visuals can be effective in helping your child see the progress their making. This could include a star or sticker chart. When a child receives 3 stars they earn a reward, sticker, activity, etc. Anything tailored to your child’s interest will help them be even more motivated. For example, if your child enjoys The Incredibles movie, a chart or movie with the interest of their choice is more likely to engage the child.
  • Keeping a routine: many students fall out of their routine over the summer. For students with special needs it is more difficult to get back into a routine and they may even regress over the summer. Any way to keep a structured routine even at home over the summer is only going to benefit your child. Helpful resources for activities at home include www.theautismhelper.com, www.readtheory.org, www.teacherspayteachers.comor even www.pinterest.com.

Each child is unique and therefore, what is effective for one child may not be functional for another. Do not be discouraged if it takes trial and error to discover what works best for your child. The bigger picture is that every child can be successful, every kid just needs their own special set of tools!

The following link is a list of resources in the area to assist in future planning for your child as well: