How to Create a Good Environment in an Inclusive Special Needs Classroom

Once you’ve managed to integrate special needs children into a mixed classroom, there’s still a road ahead:  getting them to feel part of the group on an extended basis.  To do this, teachers will want to make sure to pay attention to key areas in which special needs children can get lost in—or even led astray by—the crowd.  Here are the most important target areas in making special needs children forget any stigmas they may carry.

Classroom Guidance

If the special needs children in question have issues with spatial orientation, moving from one class to the next may be a big challenge.  In such cases, teachers should be sure to have a system set up for times of transition.  Should your school provide hall monitors for interim periods, they can be great monitors in between class periods.  Even better, securing a friendly peer who shares the special needs child’s pathway can be a more natural and inclusive way to keep everyone on track.

Structure Recess and Lunchtime Activities

Because recess is when the classroom has the least structure, it’s precisely the time when your efforts at inclusion may be challenged the most.  Special needs children who depend on guidance—kids with autism, for example—are more likely to get into conflict with other children when the rules are not so clear.  Without making children with special needs feel ostracized, teachers should subtly give these children either fun tasks or well-defined play activities to minimize the risks of things going awry.

Lunchtime, while centered around a clearly defined activity, can pose another set of challenges.  The school cafeteria is often a cacophony of competing signals, and among some special needs students, this can be anywhere from stressful to downright traumatic.  To remedy this situation, while cordoning off special needs children into a special area might incur as much stigmatization as it lessens over stimulation, a better option is to find subtle ways to seat more sensitive students in quieter, peripheral areas.

Think Out Seating Schemes

The cafeteria is an especially high-risk arena for seating conflicts, but the classroom can also be a war zone of distractions and even antagonism.  Special needs children with attention issues should be placed in the seating chart so that you can always make eye contact with them and gently guide them back to the lecture without saying a word.

However, while you want to place such children close to you, positioning them front and center might make them feel self-conscious, so use the front few rows and the closest aisle seats.  On a different plane, if you see a pattern of bullying emerging, make sure to break it up:  reassign not only the special needs child but also any ostensible cliques who’ve bonded through group harassment.

Allow For “Special Needs Time”

When it comes to in-class writing assignments, special needs children may run on a different clock, whether it’s because of impaired coordination and small motor skills or an attention deficit.  For this reason, teachers will need to give different time limits to special needs students but at the same time should not call attention to that fact.

For the same reasons, all teachers should be aware that special needs children might be not understand a direction at first.  When a class becomes unruly, special needs students often join in the fray uncontrollably.  Because they see problem behavior all around them, they don’t see any negative consequences and then not register the teacher’s reprimands.  In such cases, teachers need to be sure not to unduly punish special needs children who were unclear over the boundaries of decorum.

In all of these circumstances, the key is to do your best in not making special needs students feel as though they are being singled out.  Sometimes, the best way to do this is through simple honesty rather than through elaborate ruses everyone can see through.  Everyone may benefit from being candidly told that certain students have little differences that don’t really make them that different.  Remember, children can often be a lot wiser that we think.

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