With the New Year Around the Corner, is Special Education Inclusion Right for your Child?

We all want the best for our children. That’s especially true when it comes to education. In a perfect world, we hope that school will be a place of learning, growth and community for the ones that we love most. And while the majority of educators and school administrators want to provide just those benefits to all students, there is much debate about how best to do that—especially in regards to children with disabilities.

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Special Education: Past, Present and Future

As recently as the mid-1970s, children with special educational needs were only provided programming if they attended school in larger school districts. And, in most of these cases, disabled students were placed together in classrooms separate from the children without disabilities, often leaving them to feel stigmatized and ostracized.

However, progress has been made in the last several decades. In an attempt to meet the needs of disabled students, schools have begun to practice special education inclusion. Special education inclusion is, essentially, the intent to educate special needs children, as much as is appropriate, in the same classroom as children without special needs.

It’s a complicated issue, with many factors. In order to better understand the process it may be helpful to have a basic understanding of some key terms.

Full Inclusion

Schools which employ a full inclusion model place all students, no matter the severity of their disability, in the same classroom. All students within these classrooms follow the same schedule and attend the same events. Usually in these cases, a special education teacher is assigned to partner with the general education teacher to assist special needs students throughout the day.

Mainstreaming

Mainstreaming occurs when the child spends a significant portion of his or her day in a general education classroom, depending on what that child’s skills and capabilities are. When the child is not in the general education classroom, he is assigned to a “resource room” or special education classroom in which all the students have disabilities.

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Push In

The push in model sees the student placed in a regular classroom, with a special education teacher in attendance during specific periods or at specific times to provide individualized instruction on certain topics. For example, the teacher may come in during the reading unit to read one-on-one with the child.

Differentiation

Differentiation is a method in which teachers, through detailed planning and a broad range of activities, teach each particular student as his or her own level of ability. This can allow for more flexibility in method and instructional focus.

While Federal law does not specifically require inclusion, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), now requires that children with disabilities be educated in the “least restrictive environment appropriate” for their needs. Additionally, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that children with disabilities are placed in the regular educational environment, unless it can be proven that educational aides and services cannot satisfactorily assist in the child’s learning.

Where to from here?

If you’re considering placing your child in an inclusive program, it’s important that you understand your options and evaluate your priorities for your child’s education.  What are your child’s social, emotional and intellectual needs and challenges?

Do research on the schools you’re considering. Learn about the model of inclusion they’re employing and visit to determine if it might be appropriate for your child. Speak to the teachers and school administrators. If possible, speak to the parents of other special needs students who attend the school. Ask them what they think works, and whether they have any concerns or complaints about the program.

There are many educational models out there, and only you can decide what is most appropriate for your own child.

If you focus on what you want for your child and take the time to do the research, you may well find a program that provides terrific educational options to fit your family’s needs.

Fun Christmas Traditions for Children with Special Needs

It’s that time of year again. Many families around the world are pulling out totes full of Christmas decorations and preparing for another season of frivolity and traditions—many of which may have been passed down for generations. And while, for some families, these traditions are a cherished opportunity to spend time together, for the families of children with special needs, they can sometimes be stressful and difficult.

So, what’s a parent to do? Throw in the towel? Give up on years of tradition and treat Christmas just like any other day? You can do that, of course. Or, you could create your own traditions that speak to the needs of your family. 

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Holiday Decorating

Decorating the house for the holiday can be a wonderful way to encourage creativity and even help with dexterity. When putting ornaments on the tree, pick treasures that are appropriate to your child’s abilities and allow him or her to hook the pieces onto the branches. If small ornaments and Christmas hooks are too manually challenging, try using favorite toys or dolls and simply have your child place them in the branches of the tree.

While you’re decorating the rest of the house, enlist your child’s help. If some of the decorations themselves are too fragile for him/her to handle, allow your child to make some of the decisions about which pretties to use and where they should go. Not only will this allow them to exercise their creativity, it will give him or her a sense of pride and help them understand that their role in these family traditions—and in the family itself– is very important.

Baking Christmas Goodies

Special treats are an important part of most family’s holiday traditions. And what could be more fun for your little one than getting elbow-deep in cookie dough and churning out some of those treats themselves? Yes, chances are the mess in the kitchen is going to be considerable, and it’s possible that your cookies will be more tasty than attractive. But who cares?

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Kneading dough, greasing cookie sheets and smelling the lovely scents of ginger, clove and cardamom can be fun and intriguing sensory experiences. And, your kids won’t even realize that they’re actually practicing their motor skills as they use raisins, candies and frosting to decorate their creations. You can even use gingerbread men to practice learning some of the parts of the body—eyes, arms, legs, feet and hands.

Express Your Gratitude and Appreciation

The holidays are a perfect time to begin teaching your child about gratitude. At Christmas dinner, you can have everyone in your family share something that they’re grateful for or something that they love about other members of the family. You can also discuss special memories that everyone shares and ask your children why those particular memories are meaningful.

Giving Back

Giving back is what the holidays are all about—and they provide a perfect opportunity to teach your child about helping others. You can make a donation to a local charity in the family’s name, discuss several different charity organizations with your child and let him/her help you decide which one to contribute to, or take a trip to the grocery store and have your little ones help pick out special foods to include in a box for the food bank. Even more personally, with your child’s help, gather up toys that he or she has outgrown and donate them to a homeless shelter.

With a few adjustments and a little patience, holiday traditions can be a great way to help your special needs child learn new skills, feel connected to other people and strengthen relationships.

Making the Most of Winter Camps for Special Needs Children

When you think of camp for children, the summer season probably comes to mind. However, camp season doesn’t end when the summer does. There are plenty of year-round and winter camps for children, and if you have a special needs child, you may be considering enrolling your child in one of these camps.

Camps provide a safe environment where children can express themselves, interact with others and gain new skill sets; things that are beneficial for all children, but particularly for those who have special needs.

If you are considering taking advantage of the benefits that a winter or year-round camp offers, you will, no doubt, want to make the most of the experience. Here are some points to consider to help make your child’s camp experience as successful and enjoyable as possible.

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Camp Types

The first thing you are going to want to consider when looking for a winter camp for your special needs child is the type of camp you want to send them to. There are many different types of camps that specifically cater to the diversified needs of those with cognitive and physical delays, so you are going to want to find the right camp for your child’s specific needs.

Inclusion or mainstream camps are those that include special needs children with their typically developing peers. They offer accommodations for special needs, including modified activities and environments. These camps allow special needs children to see that they can do anything that anyone else can. They also teach typically developing children that special needs children are no different than them.

There are also camps that are specially designed for children with special needs. This includes camps that cater to children with behavioral issues, cognitive delays, physical impairments and even chronic illnesses. These specialized camps offer a highly structured environment with a staff that is trained to understand and effectively handle each type of need.

Advantages of Camps

There are so many advantages that camp offers children with special needs. Some of the biggest benefits include socialization, confidence boosting, structured activities, cognitive development and a safe environment where kids can be themselves.

Children aren’t the only ones who benefit from camps; parents do, too. They provide parents with a break from the stresses of parenting and also allow parents to provide their children with opportunities they themselves may be unable to give otherwise.

Finding the Right Camp

The first thing you want to do is consider the type of camp your child will best benefit from; an inclusion camp or a special needs camp. Think of your child’s specific needs and what each type of camp offers.

As a guide in determining the best option a couple things to consider are: Does your child need on-site medical supervision? And do they have special equipment that needs to be accommodated?

Special needs camps will often provide these services while some inclusion camps may not offer as extensive accommodations.

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Also, consider what you want your child to gain from camp. Do you want them to gain confidence by participating in activities with normally developing peers? Or would you rather them reap the benefits of feeling understood by being in a camp with other special needs children?

Start Researching

Once you decide what type of camp will best suit your child, you can start researching your options. Check out websites; make use of camp directories; ask for referrals from teachers, doctors and other parents.

When you research, you will want to take an in-depth look at the type of programs that are offered and how each camp will meet the needs of your child. Of course, you will also want to set up a meeting where you and your child can tour the camp and ask specific questions.

Types of Questions to Ask

Asking questions will help you find the camp that will best suit your child’s needs. These are some to keep in mind:

– What types of programs are offered?
– How is instruction offered?
– What types of modifications and accommodations are made?
– How do children interact with one another?
– What types of activities are available?
– What is the cost?
– What is the staff-to-child ratio?
– How are issues handled?

Make sure you write down your list of important questions and jot down the answers you receive. Go over the answers after your visits to get a better feel for each camp.

With this general knowledge in mind, you can find a camp that will be the most beneficial for your special needs child during the winter season – and all year long.

10 Tips for a Joyous Holiday Season

The holidays should be a joyous time of the year. They provide opportunities for activities that are out-of-the-ordinary, the celebration of traditions, promote togetherness and simply offer a ‘warm and fuzzy’ feeling.  However, as the parent of a special needs child, the holiday season may present a few extra challenges.

Last week we talked about your children and how to help them through the holidays. This week, it’s all about you, the parents, and providing you with the tools to support yourself this season.

Celebrations and activities that are out of the norm can certainly cause confusion, which can lead to an upset child – and upset parents – during the holiday season.

If you are the parent of a special needs child, don’t greet the holiday season with worry at the thought of being stressed. With some proper planning, you can enjoy the holiday season with your child to the fullest.

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Here are some simple, yet powerful tips that will make your holiday merry and bright.

1. Live in the Moment:

It’s great to have plans, but when it comes to children, especially special needs children, plans can change at the drop of a hat. You can certainly make your holiday plans, but be willing to adjust them based on your child’s reaction. Live in the moment and go with the flow. Your kids will only be young and carefree for so long, enjoy it while you can!

2. Make it Simple:

Yes, the holidays are often about elaborate celebrations filled with great fanfare; however, such events may not be received well by children with special needs. Remember that consistency is key with special needs children. Include some special activities for you to enjoy, but don’t go overboard, as to avoid unwanted stress.

3. Prioritize:

What is most important to you during the holiday season? Is it going to church to celebrate? Decorating? Partaking in a traditional family event? Choose one or two things that are of particular importance to you and focus your energy on making those events a success.

4. Have an Emergency Plan:

You never know when things can go awry; which is as true for parents of typically developing children as it is for parents of children with special needs. Have a plan in place, should things go sour to add extra security during the chaos of the holidays.

5. Prepare:

The element of surprise isn’t always the best with special needs children. Taking your child to a parade that interrupts part of his or her daily routine can be quite upsetting. Prepare your child for the changes and discuss events early and in detail so your child knows what to expect in order to reduce the chances of a meltdown.

6. Keep Track:

When preparing your child for upcoming holiday events, keeping track of when the event will occur can benefit both you and your child. Post a calendar and count down the days until the event happens. Having a goal in sight can create much excitement and help keep you focused on the positive.

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7. Think Twice:

Really think about an event and your child’s reaction before you decide to go. If your child is noise sensitive and the event includes loud noises, it might be in everyone’s best interest to avoid such an event. It is easy to get carried away with the planning of the holiday season, however, taking the time to carefully think about your plans may help you avoid much stress.

8. Enlist Help:

Remember that there is no shame in asking for help. The holidays are stressful enough for anyone, and they can be particularly more-so for the parent of a special needs child. Ask for help from friends and family members. A little help can go a long way.

9. Take a Deep Breath:

Remember that nothing in life is perfect. Stay as cool, calm and collected as possible. Your child will play off of your emotions and when your tensions are high, your child will react – and likely in a negative way.

10. Go Easy on Yourself:

Contrary to popular belief, you aren’t a super hero. Despite your best efforts, things can go wrong. Don’t beat yourself up if a meltdown occurs or you can’t attend to everything you planned. Life happens, roll with it and make sure to take some time for yourself and take care of your needs.

Slow down, show yourself some compassion, and enjoy the present moment this holiday season!