The Joys of Working with Special Needs Children

Demanding. Rewarding. Fulfilling. These are some of the words used to describe working with special needs children by those who have or are currently doing the job. As with parenting, it could be said that working with special needs children is the “toughest job you’ll ever love”.

From a heightened sense of accomplishment to a potentially life-altering perception of those less fortunate, there are many positive aspects to this type of work. Is it for everyone? No. But it just may be for you.

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Satisfaction Guaranteed

Whether it’s teaching the child with special needs in an inclusive classroom or in a separate special education program, teachers who have successfully worked with these students often describe the satisfaction they feel when the material is–sometimes, at long last–understood.

Why is this ultimately more satisfying that teaching in a traditional classroom, to traditional students?

Successes in working with these children are measured in inches, not feet. Even the smallest achievements of a special needs child is cause for celebration; the road to that achievement has likely been longer and rougher than for those without disabilities.

Setbacks, time spent coming up with more creative approaches to the material and even physically violent episodes might litter the road to that “Eureka!” moment when a special needs child grasps the concept being taught.

‘Part of the Job Description’

Yes, special needs children can kick. Or punch. But many teachers feel that this just comes with the territory. “It’s part of our job description,” was how special education director Kami Finger addressed it.

And these episodes can be offset by the knowledge that they’re doing the work that needs to be done for these children. Up to point when they have gotten a child to understand that math problem or that history lesson, they have already put in a lot of time, not just in the classroom but outside of it as well.

They’ve likely:

  • spent countless hours coming up with new and original ways to deliver the material

  • written several lesson plans, possibly one for each special needs child in their classroom

  • attended special training and special meetings

All this, too: just part of the job description.

The Patience of a Saint?

Does one truly need the “patience of a saint” to work with children with special needs? While it’s true that the job does require patience in abundance, some say that it more needs compassion and understanding and the will to work with those whom the school system–and even life itself–might easily leave behind.

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Working with special needs children can make you more aware of their plight in everyday society. It might help you not just at the moment but in many future moments to come. You’re likely to encounter an adult in a wheelchair, or with a personality disorder, at some time in your life. How you approach and interact with that person can be benefited by the fact that you work or worked with special needs children.

You just might come away with more of an appreciation of all people and how they develop, not just your students’ but your own children as well. You might learn patience, yes; and tolerance, and acceptance, and empathy. It doesn’t need to be seen as saintly, just human.

And that’s the payoff for all the hard work. For enduring that aforementioned job description. Working with special needs children can be difficult at the moment you’re doing it. But the dividends it can pay could last the rest of your life.

Time for Change: Why the World Needs a Special Education Week

For a few years now, there has been an online movement to create a national Special Education Week in March. Although the movement has yet to take hold, we ask — why not?

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There are lots of national awareness days, weeks, and even months. For instance, American Education Week is in November, and ADHD Awareness Month is in October, and National Teacher Day this year will be celebrated on May 6.

So why not then have a Special Education Week? Or a Special Education Teacher Day? Sure we can be included in more generic education celebrations, but why can’t our community have one time a year to honor those that do so much for children with special needs?

A Special Education Week would be a great opportunity to not only celebrate all the progress we have made to bettering our children’s education, but also to turn the attention of our country’s citizens and lawmakers to the issues in special education that still need to be addressed today.

And a Special Education Week does not have to be national to be a benefit. Something on a state, county or even more local level — even as simple as your city’s school district — can potentially have a huge impact in bringing much-needed awareness to the needs of special education, which in turn could possibly lead to funding and other assistance from community members.

So how does one work towards starting a Special Education Week? Here’s a few tips to get you started:

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Plan Your Campaign

Once you’ve decided how big you want your Special Education awareness campaign to be, you will need to start putting together materials to promote your campaign and make the community aware. Materials can include posters, banners, press releases, a Facebook page — use your creativity! DoSomething.org has some great tips on how to get your campaign going, and 501Connect.com offers some strategies on promoting your project on social media. And if you’re really looking to spread the word about your awareness campaign, consider using an online campaign website like Causes or CrowdRise, both of which may also help you raise funding.

Talk to Parents & Teachers

Although it may not seem it, building an awareness campaign like this can take quite a lot of time. Make sure to talk to other like-minded parents to get their help and support so you can divvy up all the components of the project and not become overwhelmed. And 9 times out of 10, the special education teachers in your school district will want to help as well. Plus you don’t want to miss out on all the great ideas and feedback other parents and teachers can bring to the benefit of the campaign!

Talk to Lawmakers

Find out who your elected officials are and contact their office to make an appointment to come in and talk to them about your awareness campaign. If you live within close proximity of your state’s capitol, consider banding together with a group and hold a Legislative Day where you walk through your state’s capitol wearing T-shirts with your message to meet with elected officials. And don’t forget to bring some of your campaign materials to leave in the offices!

Knowing is Better Than Wondering Exploring the Types of Special Education

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Parents and guardians of children with special needs are faced with many decisions they need to make every day — what doctors to go to, what medical treatments to try, how do they meet all of their child’s needs each day. The process can be quite overwhelming!

Caregivers also have to make important decisions when it comes to their child’s education. And again, depending on what type of special needs their child has, the endeavor can sometimes leave parents with more questions than answers.

Types of Special Education

One of the most important questions parents will need to answer is what type of special education learning environment do they want for their child. Different schools offer different options, from full inclusion classrooms to specialized smaller group classes where more intensive help is needed. And depending on your child’s special needs and personality, different situations may be more suitable for them.

The good news is today, thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), most schools are equipped to help students with special needs. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2009 about 95 percent of students who have disabilities aged 6 to 21 were served in regular schools, meaning they did not have to attend a private school or another type of institution.

The first step is to make an appointment with your child’s school to speak with your child’s teacher, principal and anyone else involved in the special education program to find out what options are available, and which options they recommend for certain disabilities and for your child in particular. According to an article on SchoolPsychologistFiles.com, schools are required to place students with special needs in the “Least Restrictive Environment,” part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) of 2004. That means if children with special needs should be allowed to learn with their peers as much as their special needs allows them to. This would then become part of the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Caregivers should also get feedback from their doctors for their recommendations and guidance.

To help you get started, here’s a look at some of the special education options traditionally offered in schools to give you some background on what you can expect.

Inclusion Classroom

An example of a Least Restrictive Environment for a student with special needs would as part of an inclusion classroom. According to the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities, this would allow that student to learn alongside their peers — regardless if they have special needs or not. And during the day students with special needs are given all the services they require, so students with special needs are not pulled out of class during the day, but instead get to stay and work with their peers.

Collaboration

For some special needs, students can still do the majority of their learning in a standard classroom and then receive specialized help a few times a week or month from a specialist – such as the school psychologist, a language specialist, or special education teacher – resulting in a teamwork approach to the student’s education.

Resource Room

Another option your school might have is a resource room for students with special needs. In this type of environment, students with special needs are in a smaller class with a special education teacher, allowing for more attention to be paid to those who may have greater needs. Depending on the program, students may spend time in the Resource Room for just a few hours a day, or receive the bulk of their education in this environment.

Day/Out-of-District Placement

For those students with severe needs, or schools that are unable to address all of a student’s needs, sometimes these children are better served attending a specialized school outside your hometown.

 

What Makes Special Education So Special?

If you have a child with special needs, learning about special education terminology and laws can make a significant difference in your child’s educational career. From the supports offered to enforcement of their IEP, your knowledge of special education is fundamental for your child’s success. Review this infographic to get an overview of special education: