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Recently at the cinema, I had an unfortunate encounter with a parent and her special needs child, and it got me wondering; are there ways of disciplining special needs children? I bet many others have wondered same thing too.

It’s definitely not easy on the parent of the child with special needs, because they’ve got a lot to deal with. From the moment they heard the diagnosis, they probably felt that life would be more challenging for their child than it is for other children, and they are often not far from the truth. So they make excuses for their child; excuses like – does he really need me to point out his limitations by trying to correct him? And when you ask him to do something and it’s not done, they let it go. Slowly and gradually you let go of discipline, forgetting that Discipline — correcting kids’ actions, showing them what’s right and wrong, what’s acceptable and what’s not — is one of the most important ways that ALL parents can show their kids that they love and care about them.

Granted, disciplining a child with special needs is usually more challenging than disciplining a typically developing child. However, it is just as important, to discipline a special needs child if not more so, to encourage appropriate behavior for your child. It is essential to hold special needs children to the same expectations as their typically developing peers as often as possible.

Discipline is not a punishment. It is a tool to be used to promote positive behaviors and decrease negative behaviors. It should be used as a means to encourage progress of the child across all aspects of their development. And while all children are different and demonstrate different behaviors as they grow, there are a few discipline techniques that are applicable for all special needs children.

I would not go into the details of my encounter with the parent at the cinema, but I would share a few tips that I found on Northshore Pediatric Therapy about Discipline Strategies for Special Needs Children: Here they are –

  1. Praise good behaviors; ignore bad behaviors (if possible). Cause and effect is one of the earliest concepts a child learns. If he learns that you give attention (even if it is to reprimand or physically stop him) when he reacts inappropriately, he will continue the poor behavior seeking the negative attention. Rather, it is beneficial to teach him that the good behaviors will result in the attention and praise he seeks.
  2. If possible, determine the underlying cause for the behaviors and address it. It can be extremely frustrating to not be able to effectively communicate to meet wants and needs. Before you react, assess the situation and give as much assistance as you can to help him communicate with you. Then, validate his emotions and give your command. For example, “I can see that Kyle taking your toys is making you mad, but it is not okay to hit him. Hands are not for hitting.”
  3. Avoid punishments. Research supports that positive discipline and behavior management are more effective than corporal punishment.
  4. Model appropriate behaviors yourself. Children with special needs will not understand, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Children will imitate what they observe in their environments. Pay attention to when and how you raise your voice or when you demonstrate listening skills for your child.
  5. Give countdowns. It can be hard to suddenly stop a fun activity. Give warnings like, “5 more minutes before it’s time to clean up…2 more minutes…10 more seconds…” For some children with special needs, a visual or auditory aid may be more useful. For example, “You can play until the timer goes off.” or, “When the red is gone from the clock, we’ll be all done with bath time.”
  6. If you’re having trouble, give choices. If you tell your child to do something, he must complete the requested action; however, you can give him choices on how he completes the activity. If it is time to clean up and put on pajamas, he can chose where the trains can sleep for the night, whether he hops like a bunny or craws like a bear down the hall, and which pajamas he wants to wear to bed. This is a great strategy for giving some control back to the child without backing down.
  7. Consequences should be related to the behavior. Timeouts, while great for calming down, may not be effective to decrease the behavior if the child does not understand that the consequence is related to the behavior. If your child throws a toy, he must stop his activity and go retrieve the toy (with your help if necessary). If he refuses to complete an activity, he cannot complete any other activity until the original request is completed (with your help if necessary).
  8. Consistency, consistency, consistency. For many children with special needs, learning new things can be a slower, more difficult process. Remember…if you give a command, it must be followed through, with or without help from you. Having consistent expectations across environments and across caregivers is critical to ensuring effectiveness of the discipline on the behavior.

Some defiant behaviors and limit testing is a normal part of development for all children. It is a way of learning more about their roles and a way of exerting independence. It can be embarrassing and hard to deal with public meltdowns and screaming unhappy children, but remember, ALL parents have been there.

I spent some part of my last holiday visiting the home of my childhood friend – Aijay, who is a pediatrician and a mother of three. We relived old memories, remembering the “good old – stress-free days”, and our crazy childhood.

While catching up on old times, I mentioned bumping into a mutual friend, Kelly; who had attended the same schools we did. Kelly had always been on the big side, and as we progressed, she got even bigger, by the time we were graduating from the university, she was visibly obese, she, however, never failed to educate anyone who cared enough to listen, that the big set look, runs in her family. Fast forward twenty years on, here she was in a supermarket, with her 7-year old daughter that looks just like she did back in the day. Seeing them reminded me of her mum’s visit, during our boarding school days. Her mum back then, had looked just like our Kelly now does, and I had to ask Aijay; could it really be hereditary?

Aijay in her usual manner smiled and said to me, Bee; read it up. And that’s exactly what I did.

Did you know that Pediatric obesity has been viewed as a growing epidemic of the past few decades that requires intervention, similar to tobacco use? Over the last decade, there have been predictions from medical and health researchers that obesity will surpass tobacco as the biggest threat to overall well-being. A 2016 report by Alaska Department of Health and Social Services stated that obesity already surpasses tobacco in estimates of annual medical costs in Alaska at $459 vs. $318 million. And this is just one of many similar statistics. In a more recent article by Kelly Heyworth the creator of Happy Healthy Kids, she cited a discussion with Dr. Ludwig the director of Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) program at Boston Children’s Hospital, where he stated that Obesity has now surpassed tobacco as the biggest threat to overall well-being.

Why I’m I so worried? A January 2018 report, published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, stated that in the United States, the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s. Data from 2015-2016 show that nearly 1 in 5 school age children and young people (6 to 19 years) in the United States is obese. This report comes from a region with statistics; now think about regions with much less informatics.

As parents, we often find ourselves trying to manage our kids eating habits without making them feel less beautiful. We also find ourselves on the tricky path of identifying the difference between a child who is at risk for obesity and one who is naturally big boned or muscular. Studies have shown that parents are oftentimes poor judges of their child’s weight even when the problem is seemingly obvious. More so, being overweight has become so common that parents have come to view children having excessive weight as ‘normal’. A recent study published in Childhood Obesity stated that researchers found that more than 96 percent of parents of overweight preschoolers thought that their child was the ‘right’ size. Weight remains an incredibly touchy topic; so it’s little wonder you find a popular retort “Find a new doctor!” among parents who are advised by a pediatrician that their child’s BMI is too high.

Whether a child is overweight, obese, or at the risk of becoming so, it’s key to find a balance between encouraging healthier habits and not making them anxious about their size, because despite how common it is, studies have also shown that it “being fat” is the primary reason most kids are bullied. This may also be one reason why childhood obesity is strongly linked to low self-esteem and depression in adulthood. Oftentimes parents while trying to help their child’s with self-esteem, find themselves using phrases like, “you come from a line of heavy set people – your weight is just right – you are not overweight” etc. This will usually make the kid feel better, but will not tackle the budding weight problem. Fast forward 20 years on, and you have a Kelly, looking like her mum, holding a 7-year-old, who looks just like she did 20 years back. What I’m I saying? Build the child’s self-esteem, but do something about the budding weight issue.

While a few extra pounds do not necessarily suggest obesity, they may indicate a tendency to gain weight easily, and a call for a change in diet/exercise routine may be required. A child is not usually considered obese until the weight is at least 10 percent higher than what is recommended for their height and body type. (Read up BMI) Obesity oftentimes begins between the ages of 5 and 6, or during adolescence. Studies have shown that a child who is obese between the ages of 10 and 13 has an 80 percent chance of becoming an obese adult. Remember, it’s never too early or too late to make a healthy change.

Experts say that the already slippery slope of managing an overweight child becomes even steeper when they approach adolescence, as research has it, 8 out of 10 overweight children will remain so as grown-ups. It is a lot easier to fix a budding weight issue than an established one, so intervening before these kids slide into a long-term problem is crucial is important. Children have a unique advantage over adults: They’re still growing, so they don’t have to lose weight to grow out of a minor problem; they just need to slow their rate of weight gain.

To answer the question, is it really hereditary? There’s no doubt that genetics comes in the list of causes of obesity, however, research shows that Obesity in childhood and adolescence can also be related to: poor eating habits, overeating or binging, lack of exercise (i.e., couch potato kids), family history of obesity, medical illnesses (endocrine, neurological problems), medications (steroids, some psychiatric medications), stressful life events or changes (separations, divorce, moves, deaths, abuse), family and peer problems, low self-esteem, depression or other emotional problems. This invariably means we cannot put the blame entirely on genetics, and even if there are genetic factors involved, there are ways to manage your kid’s weight. Now here are some tips from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention about what you can do as a parent or Guardian to help prevent childhood overweight and obesity.

Balance the Calories: Help your children develop healthy eating habits – One part of balancing calories is to eat foods that provide adequate nutrition and an appropriate number of calories. You can help children learn to be aware of what they eat by developing healthy eating habits and reducing calorie-rich temptations. Remember, small changes every day can lead to a recipe for success, and look for ways to make their favorite dishes healthier. The recipes that you may prepare regularly, that your family enjoys, with just a few changes can be healthier and just as satisfying.

Remove calorie-rich temptations: Although everything can be enjoyed in moderation, reducing the calorie-rich temptations of high-fat and high-sugar, or salty snacks can also help your children develop healthy eating habits. Instead only allow your children to eat them sometimes so that they truly will be treats!

Help them Stay Active: Another part of balancing calories is to engage in an appropriate amount of physical activity and avoid too much sedentary time. In addition to being fun for children, regular physical activity has many health benefits, including Strengthening bones, decreasing blood pressure, reducing stress and anxiety, increasing self-esteem, and helping with weight management.

Children should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days of the week, preferably daily. Remember that children imitate adults. Start adding physical activity to your own daily routine and encourage your child to join you.

Some examples of moderate-intensity physical activity include: Brisk walking, Playing tag, jumping rope, Playing soccer, Swimming, Dancing

Reduce sedentary time:  In addition to encouraging physical activity, help children avoid too much sedentary time. Although quiet time for reading and homework is fine, limit the time your children watch television, play video games, or surf the web for no more than 2 hours per day. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend television viewing for children age 2 or younger. Instead, encourage your children to find fun activities to do with family members or on their own that simply involve more activity.

Set time limits for video games, net surfing etc. do what you must but by all means, get your kids off the couch! They’ll thank you for it.

Boma Benjy Iwuoha

 

Parents often wonder if getting their kids a tablet or a phone is a bad idea; do you find yourself thinking along those lines when your kid seems to lose interest in all other forms of family engagement?

Many digital age parents can relate with this; it could be that little girl that never looks up from her computer or the boy that just can’t wait to dash off the dinner table and back to his play station, let’s not forget the preteen who only communicates through texts. Yes! We’ve seen it all and it gets you wondering; are these tech gadgets building or bridging the communication gap? And if it is, what do we do; or is it back to the analog days?

In a world where children are “growing up digital,” it becomes necessary to ensure that they learn healthy concepts of digital use, and parents play an important role in teaching these skills.

 A 2013 report by daily mail revealed that nearly a third of children now learn to use a mobile phone or a tablet computer before they can talk. About 29 percent started using the gadgets as toddlers, with 70 percent mastering them completely by primary school age. This simply says we cannot go back in time, but there are ways of bridging the communication gap.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, highlights a few tips to help parents better manage their kids’ tech time.

  • Make your own family media use plan. Media should work for you and within your family values and parenting style. When used thoughtfully and appropriately, media can enhance daily life. But when used inappropriately or without thought, media can displace many important activities such as face-to-face interaction, family-time, outdoor-play, exercise, unplugged downtime, and sleep.
  • Treat media as you would any other environment in your child’s life. The same parenting guidelines apply in both real and virtual environments. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Know your children’s friends, both online and off. Know what platforms, software, and apps your children are using, what sites they are visiting on the web, and what they are doing online.
  • Set limits and encourage playtime. Media use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Unstructured and offline play stimulates creativity. Make unplugged playtime a daily priority, especially for very young children. And don’t forget to join your children in unplugged play whenever possible.
  • Families who play together, learn together. Family participation is also great for media activities it encourages social interactions, bonding, and learning. Play a video game with your kids. It’s a good way to demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette. You will have the opportunity to introduce and share your own life experiences and perspective and guidance as you play the game.
  • Be a good role model. Teach and model kindness and good manners online. Because children are great mimics, limit your own media use. In fact, you’ll be more available for and connected with your children if you’re interacting, hugging and playing with them rather than simply staring at a screen.
  • Know the value of face-to-face communication. Very young children learn best through two-way communication. Engaging in back-and-forth “talk time” is critical for language development. Conversations can be face-to-face or, if necessary, by video chat with a traveling parent or far-away grandparent. Research has shown that it’s that “back-and-forth conversation” that improves language skills much more so than “passive” listening or one-way interaction with a screen.
  • Limit digital media for your youngest family members. Avoid digital media for toddlers younger than 18 to 24 months other than video chatting. For children 18 to 24 months, watch digital media with them because they learn from watching and talking with you. Limit screen use for preschool children, ages 2 to 5, to just 1 hour a day of high-quality programming, and watch it with them so you can help them learn from what they’re seeing.
  • Create tech-free zones. Keep family mealtimes, other family and social gatherings, and children’s bedrooms screen free. Turn off televisions that you aren’t watching, because background TV can get in the way of face-to-face time with kids. Recharge devices overnight outside your child’s bedroom to help children avoid the temptation to use them when they should be sleeping. These changes encourage more family time, healthier eating habits, and better sleep, all critical for children’s wellness.
  • Don’t use technology as an emotional pacifier. Media can be very effective in keeping kids calm and quiet, but it should not be the only way they learn to calm down. Children need to be taught how to identify and handle strong emotions, come up with activities to manage boredom, or calm down through breathing, talking about ways to solve the problem, and finding other strategies for channeling emotions.
  • Apps for kids – do your homework. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research has demonstrated their actual quality. Products pitched as “interactive” should require more than “pushing and swiping.” Look to organizations like Common Sense Media for reviews about age-appropriate apps, games and programs to guide you in making the best choices for your children.
  • It’s OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are part of typical adolescent development. Social media can support teens as they explore and discover more about themselves and their place in the grown-up world. Just be sure your teen is behaving appropriately in both the real and online worlds. Many teens need to be reminded that a platform’s privacy settings do not make things actually “private” and that images, thoughts, and behaviors teens share online will instantly become a part of their digital footprint indefinitely. Keep lines of communication open and let them know you’re there if they have questions or concerns.

Media and digital devices are an integral part of our world today. The benefits of these devices, if used moderately and appropriately, can be great. But, research has shown that face-to-face time with family, friends, and teachers plays a pivotal and even more important role in promoting children’s learning and healthy development. Keep the face-to-face up front, and don’t let it get lost in a stream of media and tech.

We want our children to learn from their mistakes and not repeat them. So the natural thinking is to send them to the “time out” corner or up to their room to “think about what they’ve done.” Except they don’t. And they’re likely to keep up the same behaviors despite the punishment. So, how do you know how to discipline your child?

Often, we equate the term “discipline” with punishment. But the word “discipline” comes from the Latin word “disciplina,” which means “teaching, learning.” That’s the key to correcting our kids’ behaviors – giving them the tools they need to learn a better behavior. When we discipline in a way meant only to punish and have the child “pay” for their mistake, it doesn’t help our child learn how to make the right choice next time. No one likes being ordered around – punishment can lead to power struggles, and because our kids know this poor behavior gets them attention, they’ll keep doing it.

When it comes to knowing how to discipline your child, we can focus on three key areas: giving them the positive attention they need and crave, taking time to train, and setting limits and sticking to them.

  1. Fill the Attention Basket

Kids need attention, plain and simple. If we don’t keep that “attention basket” full of positive attention, kids will seek out any attention they can get – even negative attention. They’ll push our buttons with negative behaviors because to a kid, even negative attention is better that no attention at all. This doesn’t mean you have to be at your child’s side 24-7 – just taking a few minutes a day to spend one-on-one with your child, distraction-free and doing something they want to do, will reap immense rewards in their behavior.

Take 10 minutes once or twice a day with each child playing a game they’ve picked or reading their favorite book. Let the phone ring. Stick the cell phone in the closet. When you fill your children’s attention baskets positively and proactively, your kids will become more cooperative and less likely to seek out attention in negative ways. Life is busy for everyone, and finding extra time in the day may be daunting at first, but think of this as an investment in your relationship with your children and in improving their behavior. When it comes to knowing how to discipline your child, giving them what they need to avoid poor behaviors in the first place can have a great impact.

  1. Take Time to Train

As you think about how to discipline your child, it’s important to remember that the word discipline is rooted in meanings of learning and teaching. The best way to discipline your child is to help her make better choices. You can role play the behaviors, using a calm voice. “I’d really like to play with that tractor when you’re done.” “I’d like a snack, please.” Switch roles and pretend you’re the child, and let your little one direct you through making better choices. Be encouraging when they do make the right choices. “I see you worked hard to clean up the playroom all on your own! That’s such a big help. I really appreciate it.” “Thank you for sharing the book with your brother. How kind!”

  1. Set Limits and Stick to Them

Kids thrive when they have structure and know their boundaries. Don’t go overboard with hundreds of rules, but focus on what’s most important for your family. Be clear about the ground rules and what happens when someone breaks the rules – make sure that everyone understands the consequences ahead of time and that the discipline is related to the misbehavior. If they forget to put away their dishes after dinner, they have to load and unload the dishwasher. Cleaning their room because they didn’t do their homework isn’t related. Most importantly, be consistent. Follow through every time with the agreed-upon consequence when kids push the rules.

Overall, remember that knowing how to discipline your child is rooted in helping them learn how to make the right choice, not punishment. Be firm and give them the attention, rules, and boundaries they need.

Source: positiveparentingsolutions.com

 

Creativity is the ability to generate or make up stuff that is unique and often has practical or artistic value.  It is also a way to look for new solutions to old, and more importantly new problems.  When your child becomes an adult in the workplace, he will always encounter problems that may not be solvable through the old ways, and therefore requires thinking “outside the box”.  A child who is used to thinking creatively will be a success in his profession and will be sought after by employers.  Or better yet, he may even employ people to work on his innovative creative project!

 

Apart from practical benefits of being creative, coming up with something new in itself is a source of pleasure.

 

Many artists actually create art, not for money, but to express themselves and give purpose to their lives.  To many, it can be an important aspect of a happy, fulfilled life.

 

And of course, a creative child may also grow up to be able to produce something very valuable in his generation.   A child whose creativity is well-nurtured, and have other traits like grit, persistence, and ability to do hard work may grow up to be the next Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Coons or Frank Gehry.

 

The Genetic Root of Creativity

 

A large part of being creative is genetic. Scientists claim that some people are born more creative than others, and creativity seems to come more naturally to some kids than others.  It is an innate talent, and the naturally talented person has an easier time acquiring the same level of expertise than the lesser talented person.  Also, the talented person tends to master quickly what exists, so he can move on to working beyond what already exists and build something new.

 

Highly creative people are found to exhibit personality traits such as being intelligent, non-conformist and unconventional, and open to experience.  They have strong egos, and even have a mild form of madness.  They also tend to have a broad range of interests.  For example, highly creative scientists are found to be highly interested and engaged in the arts.

 

Although there are especially gifted creative people, experts believe that all people have creative abilities and all have them differently.  It is also something we all have in various degrees.  Kids are naturally creative.  But because of societal pressure, creativity can be unlearned.  And because of lack of stimulation, creativity can also be undeveloped.

 

Characteristics of a Creative Child

 

You can tell if your child is naturally creative if you see him:

 

  • finding new ways of using things, especially commonplace objects – like using a box as a toy fort, a vehicle, or a cave.
  • finding new ways of solving a problem, sometimes intuitively and without using logic
  • daydreaming a lot
  • being independent, unconventional, has his own way of doing things, and does not care to conform with what other children do
  • take risks and learn from consequences
  • interpret his world by creating things like music, drawings, and stories.
  • take something existing, and makes his own improvements and variation on it – he may take an existing game and create his own version, or an object such as a schoolbag and add decors to make it his own.

 

Genetic factors are main contributors to a person’s creative talent, but scientists do not negate that environmental factors play a big part in developing it in a person.  Creativity can be developed so a person can achieve his potential.  And the best time to foster creativity is from childhood.

 

Childhood is the time when your kid is still developing his powerful brain.  It is also the time when he can freely explore and grow in the direction he wants, and not be constrained by how society wants him to think. It is the time when he picks up the habit of being creative.  Indeed, nurturing his creativity is one of the most important gifts you can give to your child.

 

In general, you can foster your child’s innate creativity by exposing him to influences that can provide him with inspiration.  This means cultivating his love of knowledge and reading.  You should also provide materials for your child to apply his creativity.  Also, give him time to be alone, to think, to reflect, to imagine, to fiddle about, to create.

 

Importantly, your child needs your encouragement and your non-critical acknowledgement of what he is trying to accomplish.  Give him an environment that allows his creativity to develop, and not be stifled.

 

By doing this, you are instilling in your child the habit of creative thinking, which he will take into adulthood.

 

 

 

 

Here are some tips to raise a creative child:

 

  • Make your child a reader – Among its many benefits, reading expands the intellectual horizon of your child, exposing him to new information and experiences that could potentially capture his interest, drive his passion and stimulate the urge to create. It sets up your child to imaginative thinking. Knowledge from reading also provides raw materials for your child to build upon.  Reading informs your child about what exists, so he knows how to build on it.
  • Expose him to literature, music, and the arts – Surrounding your child with creative works from other people will inspire him to produce creative works himself.
  • Expand his horizon – He needs lots of raw materials as input, which his imagination could turn into a piece of creation. Do new things, go to new places. Make sure though that they are not forced into these, as it might backfire.  For example, do not force your child to go to an art museum, if he knows he will hate it.  Make him find learning enjoyable.
  • Encourage your child’s interest – As long as your child is interested in anything that will not harm him, do not discourage him, but rather be involved in his interest. Talk to him about it not as a cynical adult but as a genuinely interested and open-minded friend. If you can afford it, consider giving your child things related to his interest that could further fuel his imagination.
  • Accept his interest and passion no matter how they seem to be trivial or not worthwhile – It is your child’s interest and passion that fires his imagination. Something seemingly trivial might evolve or branch out into something big. For example, your child’s interest in super hero action figures may one day spark an interest in creative writing or robotics.

 

Source: raisesmartkid.com

By: Lola Aneke

Education forms a basic foundation for shaping the future of children. Some children learn very fast and others even possess unique abilities and talents that make them stand out from their peers. On the other hand, there are those who have been noted to imbibe knowledge or skills taught to them at a much slower pace compared to other children of the same age bracket. Children or adults who fall into this category are known as persons with special needs.

 

Individuals with special needs include those who are mentally or physically challenged in one form or another, and they require special education. In the past, providing special education services for children with special needs posed a huge challenge to educators due to the peculiarities of these children. However, contemporary research and technology have led to great advancements in the means of delivering education effectively to them. Nowadays, there are many related services available for special education. In many developed countries, research is ongoing with the objective of creating, even more, accessibility options for these exceptional students. However, in developing countries, children with special needs still have little or no access to special education and related services. Sometimes, the limited services available are affordable to only a few parents.

 

In exploring the major trends of providing educational services to exceptional learners (such as students living with autism) at the elementary level, the following areas have to be considered:

  • special education and related services
  • research based practices for special needs students
  • parents/family involvement

 

Children with special needs such as autism require some modifications in their educational process to accommodate their peculiarities. In some advanced countries such as the United States (US), the educational system is properly designed to cater for persons with special needs. This is summarized by the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act (IDEA) which ensures that all children receive free and appropriate public education that meets their needs. Based on this, the methods of instruction are specialized to include special materials, teaching techniques, equipment, and facilities.  In addition, related services are essential to this process, and these services include special transportation, speech-language pathology; audiological services; interpreting services; psychological services; physical and occupational therapy among others.

 

Indeed, for a child with special needs such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), special educators are trained to offer not just effective instruction, but the instruction that is highly individualized, intensive, relentless, urgent, and goal directed. The special educator would have to work as part of a team consisting of the individual, the parents, and other support staff. Thus, the goal of educating a child with special needs can only be reached through the application of this special education and related services using research-based practices.

 

There is already an increased level of awareness of special needs conditions such as autism. This is evident with various activities put in place to mark the World Autism Awareness Day. Despite this increase in awareness, there is still a huge information gap in developing nations on the current practices for meeting the needs of exceptional learners.

 

For a start, a very important issue in special education today is the identification of students with ASD and other special needs. How can a parent or a general education teacher identify a child with special needs? Using a US traditional classroom setting as an example, when a teacher observes that a child is struggling with school, the teacher is expected to try and exhaust his or her strategies for helping the student. Thereafter, a group of professionals, including special education teachers, counselors, administrators, and psychologists, called a “pre-referral team” (PRT) would normally be convened. This PRT would work with the general education teacher to help identify alternative education strategies for the student before making a referral for special education evaluation.

 

Special education evaluation is a comprehensive assessment which examines a student’s functioning in three primary areas that impact learning aptitude, basic academic skill development, and personality/adjustment factors. This evaluation is normally conducted to determine whether a specific learning disability or other condition such as autism may be impacting a student’s academic performance, and how the student learns best. This could form the basis for an appropriate intervention for the student.

Response to Intervention (RTI).  RTI is a practice in the US for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability. This is a 3-tiered process which involves testing the child for change or lack of change in academic performance or behaviour as a result of instruction. In this process, the student first receives quality instruction in the general education classroom before a formal evaluation for special education services. As a result of the RTI evaluation, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) could then be developed for the student.

Individualized Education Program (IEP). On completion of a full special education evaluation, it becomes clear if a child is eligible for special education. Consequently, an IEP is developed. The IEP is the legal document in the US, that describes the educational services a student receives. This document spells out how a school (or a special education teacher) plans to meet the needs of an exceptional student. The IEP document normally contains a description of the unique characteristics or needs and present level of performance, the special services and modifications, and the annual goals and objectives or benchmarks related to the child’s need. The IEP team normally comprises the parents or a member of the family, the exceptional child (when required), a minimum of one regular education teacher, one special education teacher, a representative of the federal or state educational agency (who is qualified to provide, or supervise the provision of specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities), and other supporting staff including providers of related services.

 

Providing Special Education (Implementing Inclusive Teaching Practices). 

 

There are many administrative plans that could be adopted for educating exceptional learners. These range from a few special provisions made by the student’s general education teacher to a full residential care in a special facility. The location and the provision of special education services depend on the extent of differences between the exceptional student and other typical students. It also depends on the resources available in the school.    Some exceptional students may not require the services of special educators. However, this occurs only when the general educator has a good understanding of the students’ individual needs and is skilled at meeting them with the appropriate materials, equipment, and instructional methods.

 

Conversely, the general education teacher may need to consult with a special educator or school psychologist in addition to acquiring special materials, equipment and methods. In some instances, exceptional learners could be supported through co-teaching. Co-teaching involves the collaborative planning, classroom support, and consultation between the general educator and a special education teacher. This type of support may be reduced at the early primary school level because teaching strategies are still concrete, visual and rote. At the later primary school age, students with ASD would require more support because their instruction becomes more abstract and conceptual. At this point, some students may require more time in a pull-out resource situation, instead of more support in a regular education program.

 

Furthermore, in situations where three or more students are pulled out for special education services, it would be appropriate to place them in a self-contained classroom. There they would receive more intensive instruction to meet their specific educational and therapeutic needs in a small group. They could also be involved in selected mainstream activities and participate with other children in less restrictive settings. In all these, the primary consideration should be how to best individualize the instructional program to meet each child’s needs.

 

In teaching children with ASD, data must be collected regularly and methodically for review so that appropriate intensity of services can be determined and progress monitored.

 

Parents/Family Involvement 

According to Anne Henderson, in the book – The  Evidence Continues to Grow, “When parents become involved, children do better in school.” This holds true with regard to parents and families who have children living with ASD. Therefore, it is strongly recommended for parents to form an integral part of the assessment and planning team for their exceptional children.

Parents are best positioned to provide very useful information about the child that may not otherwise be observed or known. They understand what motivates, interests and comforts their child more than any other person and this information is crucial to a teacher’s planning for the child. It is true that the teacher plays the vital role of creating partnerships with parents in the educational process. However, the parents’ active involvement enhances the probability that the skills their child learned at school would be generalized to home and other environments.

 

In finding the right educational program for a child with ASD, here are few recommended questions for parents to ask:  a. What are the credentials of the staff, and who will be around your child?  b. What is the schedule for the day’s activities? Will parents be allowed to observe the classroom before enrolling their child?  c. What therapies does the school/program provide? Can private therapists work with your child at the school?  d. How does the staff communicate with parents?  e. Does the school/program create opportunities for parents to meet and network?  f. Will parents be allowed to participate in the IEP?  g. How many children attend the program? What is the staff-to child ratio? Are the children divided into groups by age or in some other way?  h. How often are the teaching staff trained to work with exceptional children? Is inclusion one of the training topics? What experience has the staff had in working with children with special needs?  i. What is the discipline policy?

  1. If your child is unable or would prefer not to do an activity (eg. swimming or a field trip), what is the alternate activity? k. If your child would like to do a certain activity but may need additional support, is the staff willing to make individualized accommodations (such as help changing into a swimsuit,   headphones during loud times, help with usingthe bathroom, feeding,  etc.)?  l. Are staff members willing to have a support person come in to facilitate inclusion efforts for your child and others?  m. Does the school/program have a board of directors for parents to share positive and negative experiences?

 

These questions would serve as a guide to parents of children with ASD or other special needs in making their choices for their child’s education. In the end, the goal of any special needs program is to make the child feel successful, learn new skills and feel good about themselves as they grow into productive adults.

 

In most developing nations, the education of children with autism and other special needs faces many challenges. Some of these challenges include:

 

  • Inadequate legislations in favour of persons with disabilities particularly developmental disabilities, negative societal attitudes, the lack of, or inadequate evaluation and identification plans, lack of guidance services and special education capacity in public schools, even at the most basic level. There are no appropriate policies in place that mandates educational institutes to adequately cater for the education of children in general and education of children with special needs in particular. Thus, children with special needs are abandoned and their education is faced with a haphazard attitude, exposing them to a poor learning foundation.

 

  • Lack of Assessment in Public Hospitals. There is no proper identification and assessment practice that immediately checkmates the presence of disabilities or disorders in children after childbirth. This is to enable the appropriate authorities to provide intervention programs for affected children as a form of early intervention. Hospital managements should, therefore, create identification and assessment units under their maternity or pediatric department with the sole purpose of assessing and identifying disabilities and disorders in babies after childbirth, so as to enable referral to the right intervention programs.
  • Lack of Special Education Capacity in Public Schools. The current situation of special education needs to be urgently addressed. In my view, the importance of early intervention as well as intensive instruction in meeting the needs of children with ASD cannot be overemphasized. Therefore such children should be placed where adequate instruction can be provided effectively. Consequently, I recommend a two-pronged approach. The first is to emphasize the inclusion of children with ASD into general education schools. This entails that general education schools would make some modifications to adequately accommodate children with ASD in the general education settings. The modifications should include the following: a. Identification, assessment, and regular progress monitoring. IEPs (with parental involvement).   c.      Regular communication and meetings with parents d. Program evaluation.        e. Collaborative consultation.  f. Co-teaching and other team arrangements.  g. Curricular and instructional strategies.  h. Accommodations and adaptations.  i. Training general education teachers to accommodate diversity.  The second approach is to adopt “special day schools.” These types of schools would offer all-day placement for children with ASD who require higher levels of specialization or dedication to their needs. The special school would be expected to provide learners with special equipment and methods of instructions necessary for their care and education. Some notable features of special day schools for children with autism are as follows:  a. Highly specialized classrooms.  b. Smaller class sizes.  c. More individualized teaching (e.g. One-on-one).  d. Significant flexibility in terms of curriculum. Generally, the two approaches should be able to offer adequate educational programming for students living with autism.
  • Negative Societal Attitudes. The attitude of the society to the state of being a child with special needs is not encouraging. This makes children and families with special needs children to withdraw and isolate themselves from participating in social and academic activities. The result of this is that the social and especially academic performance of these children becomes hindered. Advocacy and awareness programs should be created at the community level, supported by Governments, aimed at promoting the cause of special needs acceptance.

 

 

In my view as a special educator, inclusion in general education schools has some advantages over the special day schooling approach. Some of the advantages are a. The child acquires more academic or functional skills because of the higher expectation and greater stimulation in the general education classroom.    b. The general education teacher, as well as non-exceptional students, benefit by learning to know more about children with autism.  This will help reduce stigma and create awareness.    c. Being around typical kids helps children with ASD acquire social skills.

 

 

While it can be tempting to give your children the kind of treatment they demand of you, the number of women who have been left heartbroken by their children’s inability to handle life’s challenges makes it easier to acknowledge the fact that this is not the way to go.

This article was inspired by an article written titled “How to Ruin Your Teens for Life” which was written by Tricia Goyer where she pointed out the seemingly little things people do to ruin their children’s life – without even knowing it.

So as a woman who is directly involved with your child, how do you ensure your teen is adequately prepared for the future?

  1. Model a Life of Integrity and Character.

Children learn by example. Don’t just tell your children what you expect of them, exemplify it. Let them see you keep your promises both to them and to other people. When you make a promise, be sure to fulfill it. Don’t make comments to threaten or compel them to do certain things when you know you cannot fulfill it. For example; don’t threaten to leave them behind at the mall if you won’t – they’ll not only learn to take your instructions lightly but they’ll think it’s okay to say what you do not intend to follow through in order to get what you want.

  1. Share Your Humanity with Them.

Most women and parents generally tend to hide their mistakes from their children to appear perfect before them. What they do not know, however, is that this attitude is doing more harm to the children than good. Sharing your life with your children in a very open manner will help them to come to accept mistakes as a learning process. It will give them the courage to strive to grow beyond them and still make the most of their lives rather than camp around a wrong choice.

  1. Make Your Teens Take Up a Job

The idea here is not for them to take care of themselves as teenagers but to teach them the place of work as a means for survival. This is also necessary to inculcate acceptable work ethics into them starting at an early age, while preparing them for future responsibilities. This will not only prepare them to be responsible adults but it will also enable them to take the subject of money more seriously.

  1. Talk to your teens about sex and purity

As a mother, you are a very important voice in the life of your children. If you don’t talk to your teens about sex and the need for sexual purity, you can be sure someone else would. Maybe their peers at school or the media but you can be sure someone else will. Save yourself the trouble and teach them yourself. That way, they can always come back to you for clarity when in doubt.

  1. Enforce compliance with your beliefs.

Teenagers want to have a degree of control over their own lives because they think they already know what they want but if you want your teens to be prepared for the future, be sure to enforce compliance on belief systems.  Don’t worry about appearing like a difficult mother, it’s just a matter of time before they’ll come back and appreciate you for keeping them on track.