In my counselling work I come across large numbers of children with special needs and their carers.
I find that so much of the carers’ energy and resources is spent on trying to apprehend the special needs of their children, and on providing them with optimal support to develop their potential to the max.
Additionally, many carers and children with special needs experience the never-ending pressure to fit into a neuro-typical, mainstream world, and align as closely as possible with mainstream expectations: academically, emotionally, and behaviorally.
An article I recently came across, by David Roy (Lecturer in Education, University of Newcastle (Australia)) sadly mirrors what I anecdotally often hear from many parents, namely their concern about schools “normalizing” their children according to the expectations of a set standard:
Understandably, I can only imagine the enormous pressures that teachers face (and I take my hat off to them) to juggle academic curriculum with behavioral support in their classrooms. They face the challenging task of familiarizing themselves with the particular sensitivities of their students, while juggling their work loads and limited resources of time and energy.
In his article, Dr Roy writes about the tendency of some schools to cope with their special needs students via restricting their access to enrollment, or to their time at school (either through enforcing suspensions or limiting their class-time), as opposed to adjusting to their needs.
He finds that many times educators can fail to follow through on the recommendations of specialists (either due to lack of time or specialist knowledge), especially when the outward presentation of many children with special needs (such as ones on the ASD spectrum) may, on first impression, not differ from their peers; many of their challenging behaviors get frequently attributed to poor discipline, or not trying enough, which places additional stress on the students and parents, on top of them already trying to cope with managing the curriculum and meeting the community’s mainstream expectations.
However, it always fills me with great hope to hear about those accounts of teachers and parents working together as a team to put in place simple support strategies, like making use of visual cues or allowing breaks, that made a big difference to the academic performance and emotional well-being of a child.
Research supports the focus on a student as an individual. For example, a recent study by ASPECT has found that making allocations for meeting the sensory needs of students with an Autism diagnosis (e.g., through allowing breaks that include physical activities such as squashing a bean bag), tend to enhance their self-regulatory ability and reduce their levels of stress.
I am also grateful for the general guidelines of Disability Standards for Education, that advocate for “openness to consultation” and “making reasonable adjustments” when accommodating a student’s special needs, that encourage the considering of children as individuals, and maximize their chances of making a positive adjustment to the schooling process. And, for professionals such as Dr Roy, who shine light on this through their work and advocate for ways of providing more individualized support to children.
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
Lang, R., O'Reilly, M., Healy, O., Rispoli, M., Lydon, H. et al (2012) “Sensory integration therapy for autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review” Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders 6, pp.1004- 1018.
Roy, D. “Children with disability are being excluded from education.” The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/children-with-disability-are-being-excluded-from-education-59825 (accessed May 06, 2018).
Mills, C., Chapparo, C. (2014) “Classroom based sensory intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD): A pilot study using single system design” Inaugural National Conference Report, https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/sites/default/files/SE05_1330_Caroline%20Mills.pdf (accessed May 06, 2018).