Saturday, April 2, 2011

"Special needs"

I use the term "special needs" to describe the children I once taught who were diagnosed with Autism. Each student fit on a different point on the spectrum of Autism. Anyone who knows anything about Autism is aware that these children are very bright, loving, and very complicated. They also have the most incredible desire to learn and be "normal." The students I taught displayed some typical behaviors associated with Autism such as not acknowledging people around them.

At the beginning of the school year, I was faced with seven students who never interacted with each other. More than anything I wanted my students to interact with each other. I had the "experts" tell me what behavior to expect and that there were just some things that I would have to accept about this particular population and that they may never interact with each other regardless of what I did. Being as stubborn and determined as I am, I began my grand plan to get my students to interact with each other special needs or not.

I created center activities that required two or more students to complete each task. My students were not too receptive to the idea of working with another person because the "experts" had deemed that inappropriate for these students. Regardless, I began to encourage my students to play ball together on the playground and other games that required two or more players. I encouraged my aides to ensure that our students were interacting with each other as much as possible.  I was very persistent with them and I am glad to say that my persistence paid off.

By the end of the school year, my students were fighting with each other over toys, they were also reminding each other of the classroom rules, and actually hugging each other when they saw the need to. They began to interact with other students who were not in our classroom when they would see them on the playground or in the lunch room. Some of my students could not speak, but they still managed to make friends with other students outside our classroom. Play translates well with children no matter if they're "special needs" or "normal." Hooray for my students!

Never underestimate the power of the human spirit "special needs" or not. We all have special needs and there is nothing normal about any of us. Of course, this is my humble opinion.

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