Approximately 6.7 million students in public schools have special health needs. These students require teachers who are aware of and prepared to address learning difficulties and unique personal challenges. Most children along the autism spectrum just need patience and a safe environment to learn.
Keeping all kids safe is a priority, but dealing with those with special needs requires a bit more preparation. If not, you’ll get burned out quickly having to constantly correct and redirect them away from trouble. Exploration doesn’t need to be stunted just because their behavior is a challenge.
Follow these steps to create a safe environment for all children with special needs.
Think Like a Child
This is probably easier for some than others but bear with us here. Take a survey of the spaces that the children will be learning in. Get down on your hands and knees if you’ll be teaching crawlers. Look at all the potential hazards that children could come into contact with.
Child-safe outlets, shakey tables, curtains, and appliances are all potential accidents for children with special health needs. Their judgment of tall objects or stability should be erred on the safe side.
Organize and Visualize
Defining boundaries can be a struggle for kids along the spectrum. Even if it may be difficult to teach them, you should try your best to advertise boundaries. You can do this by designated specific areas for playtime, naptime, snack time, and special activities.
Store your supplies in their own compartments at opposite ends of the room. Further identify these areas by using labels, colored zones, and audio cues. Children who cannot read yet will be able to associate these physical locations with specific times of accessing them.
Children with special needs will need equal amounts of structure and space. These spaces should exclude long hallways and isles that can present tripping hazards. Long narrow spaces just have too much potential for injury.
You should try to place roadblocks at the entrances of hallways. A small gate should be used for crawlers and older children alike. You can also fill hallways and isles with tables and furniture that discourage running.
Teach to the Senses
It’s worth elaborating that teaching kids with special needs has to be done outside the text. Even kids who aren’t diagnosed with special needs know the importance of mixed methods of teaching. Most of us need to learn with hands-on experiences, rather than reading out of a book.
That means lesson plans need to be creative, engaging, and not centered around doing “classwork”. Sometimes lessons need to be taught through song, dance, painting, or puzzle-solving. There should be multiple versions of these lessons to appeal to all types of special needs personalities.
Touch is such a powerful sense for children born with special learning needs. They are more sensitive to touch and interactions with certain textures can generate various emotions. The act of squeezing and grabbing a stuffed animal, for example, is very calming and therapeutic.
You should utilize their favorite stuffed animals and toys as a method of associating learning with safety. Retaining the attention of special needs children is a delicate balance of tactile cues and positive reinforcement.
Choosing Toys and Supplies
Having the right combination of toys and learning supplies helps makes your job easier as a teacher. Overall, you should aim for a good variety of toys and supplies to keep the mind stimulated. Arts and crafts supplies are very important, as are blocks and puzzles.
Make sure all of your toys and supplies are tested among special needs children. There’s a lot of good resources that you can find written by parents who can make suggestions based on their experiences. This is very helpful when deciding on age-appropriate toys and supplies.
Most products are labeled with ages and learning levels that are often difficult to translate for special needs age groups. We recommend teaching children how to use new toys and supplies through demonstration, but with moderation.
Sometimes trying to do things the intended way only can be frustrating for children with special needs and generate anxiety.
Give Choices and Alternatives
Kids will know what’s best for them if you give them choices. Your lesson plans shouldn’t be rigid. Special needs children will feel trapped if they aren’t happy with their activities. This is where you’ll find the source of many tantrums and acting out of turn.
There needs to be a sense of freedom with every activity and the ability to switch to a different plan altogether if needed. Your space should also include a designated area for deescalating situations. It can be a small bedroom or any space that is quiet, filled with soft items, and dim lighting.
Never Lose Composure
Children can tell when you’re stressed, frustrated, or angry. Special needs children are especially sensitive to projected emotions. You need to always be positive and never let children adopt a negative attitude towards your environment.
As soon as they start to associate your space with negative experiences, you’ll need to do your best to diagnose why that is and fix it. We’re not saying you have to spoil them or ignore bad behavior. Children with special needs can learn consequences without needing to be directly punished, it just requires some creative engineering.
Careers Dealing with Special Health Needs
Yes, dealing with children that have special health needs is challenging, but it is equally rewarding. If you’re compassionate and love making a difference in others’ lives, there is a growing need for special education teachers. As we learn more about those with special needs, the way we teach them improves.
If you’re interested in learning more about the career paths available, take a look at these five special education jobs in demand right now. The benefits of this life-long career of helping others extend beyond what is written on paper. Find the job that you look forward to waking up to every day and never look back.