Never Say Never and Achieve Better Results with Special-Needs Children

Caring for children with special needs
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Children with autism have special needs, but perhaps educators can achieve better results if tactics and expectations are reevaluated. - Editor's Note. Here is one real-life story from Nancy Howson.

Seven years ago I sat in a room with my Co-Workers as they briefed me about the children who will be coming into my class in the coming two weeks. For the most part they used the phrases, “do not expect much”, “always takes three steps forward and four steps backwards”. Then they came to a little boy who I will call Will. They described him to me as a spoilt. Parents were in denial. One of my Co-workers said that she had informed the parents that they needed to look into a wheel chair because he would never walk unassisted and that Will would always be a “lump of nothing”.

My question to my Co-workers was if we do not expect much from these kids why are we here? The next day was the first day of school and I would finally meet Will. I decided that apart the data on their diagnosis the rest of the staff’s Interpretations about the children I would toss out the window.

The first day of school arrived, and Will was the last child off the bus. He climbed the stairs with the aid of his driver slowly and carefully. When he arrived in the room, I bent down and said hello to him. I was told he would scream. I was told he would cry, but he did not. What that told me is the staff who had not seen him for two months during summer vacation did not take into account that Will and his classmates were two months older and with age, even just two months, comes change.

As the year progressed Will, who was once from all descriptions severely tactile defensive, became less so when I changed the programming. The first Sensory program that I witnessed was the children exploring shaving cream.

Now I am going to ask you to imagine, you are visually impaired, have some developmental delays, and accidentally put shaving cream near your mouth. I do not know about you but I would be screaming and that is what these kids did. I started doing their sensory program using Condensed milk. It’s sweet, non-toxic and may take a little longer to dry, but with the results that I had, so worth it to use.

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The screaming by the end of the first week lessened. By the end of the second week nobody was screaming, including Will who apparently would “never do anything unless you forced him.”

The lesson in this story is that sometimes we as teachers need to change our routine.

As the year progressed with the help of a Physio Therapist, Will was developing greater endurance so that he could walk for longer periods of time. He still needed assistance, but he was becoming sturdier on his feet and could walk at a quicker pace. By the time the end of school rolled around he had exceeded all expectations.

The family asked if I would continue to work with him privately at their home. Throughout the summer he and I would trek outside and by the end of the summer he started to take steps on his own. He also started to display an amazing sense of humour and started to play games where he would pretend that he was asleep. When he knew that he had us fooled he would start to laugh.

As the year progressed Will started taking more and more steps on his own. He also began walking up and down the stairs, feeding himself and drinking from an open cup. For a kid who was described as a lump of nothing he clearly was showing he was not, he had a strong will and wanted to do what he could by himself

It’s now 2014 and Will has recently celebrated his twelfth birthday. Although during these years he has had downs along with the ups, he now communicated through using augmentative communication devices. This year he participated in an inter school games day at Variety Village.

At the age of twelve he may be non-verbal, but he knows how to get his point across. He has a great sense of humour. Yes he needs assistance to do some things like getting out of a chair or off the floor, but he is hardly the lump of nothing that my co-worker said that he would be.

The lesson in all of this is that these children with special needs will never stay the same. It is not our place to predict what their futures will be. It is our job and our responsibility to provide them with the tools to have every success possible. In the end, Never say Never, because they will always surprise you.

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