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A welcoming classroom for children with special needs

  • 28 February 2022

Managing a class with a wide range of abilities and needs can be a challenge for many. This is where the role of a special instructions specialist comes into play. Over the past several years, I have had the opportunity to give academic and behavioral support to many children with special needs and have witnessed their gradual growth.

The traditional approach is to diagnose the learning gaps and make amendments in the teaching plan but it takes a lot more to create a welcoming classroom for children with special needs in the classroom.

Here are a few tips that will come handy:

Firstly, try addressing your fears and concerns: At times we focus a lot on accessibility in our classrooms, maybe with respect to proper seating, light, ventilation, washrooms, and other resources. But, what about an accessible attitude towards the child? Usually, it has been seen that teachers feel ill-equipped and discomforted to work with a child with a special need.

I believe talking to the child and parents with compassion, and zeal to understand the depth of the situation can dilute the fears. Additionally, taking help from a special instructions specialist, like me, who is trained to implement inclusion and integration can also prove helpful to address the fears and concerns on how to deal with the child in a regular classroom setting.

Secondly, try designing inclusive activities for the classroom: Try designing a class activity that promotes inclusion. Usually, the classroom study plan is modified for the child with special needs, but what if we try the other way round? What if we gave a challenge to the whole class to experience the world like the special child is experiencing? This activity will surely create a level playing field for everyone in the class.

Once we had a child with visual impairment in class, so we created a sensory challenge for the whole class, where all the students were blindfolded and were instructed to guess the objects by touching and smelling. Later they were instructed to put their arm in front and move 4 steps to the left and 3 to the front of them. This activity made the special child feel fully included in the class as well as sensitized other students regarding the daily struggles of their classmates. Additionally, conducting peer talks, playing sensitization videos and sensitization sessions in the classroom will generate awareness among the students.

Thirdly, try creating a warm environment for the special child to nurture: When the fellow classmates help the child instead of making fun, maybe via small tasks like helping to pick their bag or inviting them to their birthday celebrations, etc. can make the child feel that he/she is like everyone else.

When appropriate care and attention is given (neither too little nor too much) to the child,  then the response rate of the child can improve as it communicates that the existence of the child matters to one and all.

Fourthly, do not expect them to be perfect; instead uncover their hidden capabilities: We should aim at uplifting the hidden talents and nurturing the basics in children with special needs instead of expecting perfection in all spheres.

Once we had a Grade IX student with Cerebral Palsy, which led to lower intellectual activity and poor motor functions. But she had a very disciplined way of maintaining things. So, we tried delegating her some responsibilities like checking the nails and uniforms of classmates, cleaning blackboards, ensuring silence in class in absence of a teacher etc. Over the time, due to these responsibilities, she intermingled with others, inherited many good traits, hence boosting her self-confidence and overall performance.

To conclude I’d like to say that we should treat the people with special and different abilities with utmost compassion and patience, and create greater opportunities for inclusion.

Here is a source that you can refer to generate ideas to create a welcoming, engaging and inclusive classroom

Gurpreet Kaur

Special Instructor

Oakridge International School, Mohali


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