What you need to know before admitting that special needs child into your school.
The aim of this article is not to make inclusive education complex but to equip you for an interesting journey into the world of special education. Once your heart is open to receive children with physical or learning disabilities into your school, you will always find a way to meet their needs. It doesn’t matter if you have a lot of funds or not.
Also remember that the other students in the school would benefit from having a classmate who has special needs. How? You may ask. It teaches them about differences. It helps them to be creativity in their thinking, communication and social interaction. It helps them to show empathy towards others who have challenges.
When we, as parents and teachers get old, we will become dependent on our children to make some decisions for us. At this stage, it is said that we have special needs due to old age or ill health. Would we want our children to neglect us or lock us away? Let’s sow good seeds.
1. Assessment of the special needs child
The school needs to request for the medical diagnosis for the special needs child who is seeking admission. Kindly ask for an assessment report from a pediatric neurologist. A pediatric neurologist is a doctor that manages disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve and muscle affecting infants, children and adolescents. In Nigeria you can find one in a teaching hospital, a general hospital or a private hospital.
Please note, the child’s parents or a special needs educator cannot, and should not give a medical diagnosis. This can only be conducted and a report issued by a pediatric neurologist.
Getting a diagnosis is not to label the child but it is to better understand the medical condition of the child and to meet his or her needs appropriately.
2. Different diagnosis, different needs
A child’s medical diagnosis will determine the approach the school will take in meeting his/ her needs. The common developmental disorders include: Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and Learning disability.
• For children with cerebral palsy, their needs are oftentimes physical. This may include the need to have a suitable chair and table in the classroom, a stroller to move around the school compound and a personal care giver to assist with movement and other needs. However, this still depends on the severity or otherwise of each case. It is not every child with cerebral palsy that requires assistance in the classroom.
• For children with autism and ADHD, it is more of emotional and behavioural needs.
A child with autism may not understand how to handle social interaction and communication. While a child diagnosed with ADHD may have above-normal levels of hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. Therefore, this child may have issues with handling self-control. This also depends on the severity of each case.
• Children with Down Syndrome usually learn and progress more slowly than most children. Likewise this depends on each case.
• Learning disability is a very broad term. It can manifest in different ways in children. It can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or math. It can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short-term memory and attention. This child may need extra lessons. This child may need a one on one attention in class.
3. A meeting with the child’s parents, therapist and care giver
A meeting should be scheduled (after the IEP (Individualised Educational Plan) has been done) for all parties involved to understand the needs of the child. It would also give the parents the opportunity to state their expectations about their child and the school to understand how they can come in and what they can and cannot do for the child. This is very important so that everyone is on the same page. This should also be reviewed at least twice a term, it may be more.
4. Working with other professionals
If the school doesn’t have special needs educators, it may be wise to seek counsel from other professionals.
• The child with special learning needs would need an IEP (Individualised Educational plan). The child would be assessed by a special needs educator to find out learning capabilities and needs. This would guide the class teacher on what the child can do and also set goals that are achievable for the child.
• A child living with autism or ADHD may require the services of a behavioral therapist; depending on the severity of the needs. This may just require that a trained learning assistant sits with the child in class. This will be to guide the special needs child during classes and to also correct inappropriate behavior.
• A child with speech impairment may require the services of a speech therapist. This may be an after-school therapy. As much as possible, it is better to reduce pull out sessions for the child during regular classes.
5. Flexibility in your approach of teaching
No one method fits every special needs child. What worked for A may not work for B. Take for example, autism. There are no two cases of autism that are exactly the same. Even where there are more than one sibling in a family living with autism the condition may be very different in its appearance. Be patient enough to study each child and learn how best to reach the child’s mind.
6. Pull-out room
A child living with autism or ADHD may find the normal classroom setting a bit cagey from time to time. It is wise to set up a pull-out room where the child can be taken to for him/her to calm down.
A pull-out room can simply be a soothing calm area where a child can relax and even play. This could also double as a sensory room. Another child may simply calm down by taking a walk around the school compound.
7. A therapy room /sensory room
Where a school can afford to have a therapy room, this would be useful for a 30- 45 minutes exercise for a child with disabilities. A sensory room is a special room designed to develop a person’s senses, usually through special lighting, music, and objects. It can be used as a therapy for children with limited communication skills.
8. Trained care givers
Depending on the severity of each case, trained care givers or learning assistants would help the child to cope in school and the teacher will not become overburdened.
9. Educate the students, their parents and the school staff
This cannot be over emphasized. Parents of children without special needs need to be properly educated before a school embraces inclusive education.
Students in the school also need to be given the right information. They are not to show pity in a derogatory way but to show love and acceptance.
10. Start with the number of children you can handle per time. Don’t get overwhelmed.
I don’t have funds or space for some of the things you have mentioned above but I am open to try inclusive education in my school. What do I do?
I would say you should start with what you have. My daughter’s school doesn’t have all these things but they are doing a fantastic job. The most important thing is a heart of love and acceptance and you would find a way around it. My daughter has a trained caregiver that stays with her in school. She assists her so the class teacher is not overburdened. She also has her physiotherapy three times a week at home. Twice a week in the morning before going to school and on Saturday mornings. When she has physiotherapy on school days, she gets to school late but her teacher ensures she catches up with other kids by giving her extra time for her class work.
If she gets overwhelmed with everything happening around her, her care giver takes her to another room where she engages in a calming activity before going back to class.
Also note that for children in toddler classes, their main learning needs are alphabet sounds, numbers and nursery rhymes. Some schools may go a little further by teaching them about their environment and personal health. In this case, the class teacher can assess and go at the child’s pace. There is really no need for a special needs teacher unless the school can afford one.
In line with all you have discussed, is there really a need for special schools?
Yes, there is a role for special schools. This would be discussed in the next article.
Till then, let’s love without boundaries.