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10 Tips on How to be Inclusive of Children with Special Needs

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Respect. Treat and talk to children with special needs with respect. Do not talk down or use a condescending tone of voice; talk to them the same way you would to any child. At the same time, be clear and avoid using figurative language (such as “it’s raining cats and dogs”) as this may be confusing to a child who takes these phrases literally.


Person First Language. One way to show respect to people with special needs is to use person first language. This simply means you put the person before the label. Instead of saying “an autistic child” or “a special needs child” say, “a child with autism” or “a child with special needs.” This shows that you are focusing more on the person than the disability.


Interact. The biggest mistake that adults make when they meet someone with special needs is failing to interact with them. The same rules of polite conversation of adults to children are applicable when the child has special needs. First, introduce yourself. Depending on the child’s special needs, it may be necessary to take the child’s hand or place a hand on the child’s shoulder to make a proper introduction. Then explain the activity that you will be doing with the child. Explain the different steps of the activity, including the beginning and the end, while making as much eye contact as possible. Some children may not be comfortable with making eye contact and should not be forced to do so. This is not necessarily a sign of inattention.


Observe. Some children with special needs perceive sensory input in different ways and may be unable to verbalize discomfort. Remember that all behavior is communication. Always keep a lookout for these differences and think about what the child’s behavior is communicating to you. If you’re not sure what you’re seeing, ask the child’s parents or other adults for advice.


Be Flexible. Some adults say that they will not change the way they do things to accommodate one person in a group. But the whole point of teaching is to use a variety of methods to help another person understand and master new skills. If a child does not have the appropriate motor skills for an activity, help the child go through the motions and assign a buddy to help the child practice on the sidelines for a few minutes. A child may have difficulty understanding some concepts, but when those same concepts are presented in a game or hands-on art project, they make more sense. Think about who will be participating as you plan, and make sure you have ideas of how to alter the activity if necessary. Failing to accommodate, results in highlighting the disability rather than the abilities of the child.


Be Consistent. Many children with special needs require a consistent schedule or routine to feel comfortable and safe. It can be helpful to assimilate normal routines into an environment that is entirely new. It is also important to provide and clearly communicate consistent and fair expectations for all children.


Use Visual, Auditory or Tactile Cues. Having the right cues in an environment can mean the difference between participation and non-participation for many children with special needs. Tactile cues such as gently touching a person’s shoulder, offering a blanket or other soft fabric, or providing silly putty are easy ways to mark a transition and get a person’s attention. Giving children with extra energy something to do, such as bouncing their feet on a bungee cord strung between chair legs can help them focus.


Have a Plan. And a Back-up Plan. In the world of special needs, there is always a Plan B, and usually a Plan C. Make sure that there is space to calm down and move freely if things go badly.


Person Focus on Ability, Not Disability. Think about what each child can do instead of focusing on what they can’t contribute. Often times, children with special needs have exceptional talents, such as in math, music, or art. Strive to find out what those talents are, and highlight them.


Be Positive and Patient. Having a positive attitude and patience are incredibly important qualities for anyone who works with children with special needs. Having high expectations for children with special needs makes a world of difference; high expectations result in more participation and growth. Being positive about what a child can do and being patient enough to try multiple ways of getting there more often ends in success.

Based on this article from www.friendshipcircle.org.