Working with special needs students
Last year we had a few students (between the ages of 4 – 10) who were on the autism spectrum and needed a little something more. We learned about The Autism Program here at UIUC which is housed in the Human and Community Development program. We got some good ideas for helping students adjust. Here are highlights:
1) Provide a “social story.” We made a powerpoint that showed, step by step, what it would be like to come to class. Every page had a photo and a caption. This included exterior shots of the building and basics of the interior (dressing room, where to leave shoes). Inside, each lead teacher stood by her room waving hello. Then we showed a chart of the daily schedule and some caveats like “there may be some college students in the class dancing with you and the other children.”
We sent the “social story” ahead to help with the transition into the program for incoming 4s and 5s. They could read it with their parents ahead of time. We also had a copy at the studio in case someone needed a little additional emotional scaffolding on site.
As it turned out, we didn’t have any kids this year who were neurologically atypical BUT we found that the social story ELIMINATED the tears and separation anxiety that usually afflicts new, young students on their first day! We are going to continue doing this in the future with all new students.
2) Put a stop sign on your door. It helps keep kids from running out.
3) Have a daily schedule poster so children can follow the sequence of the class. With the 4s and 5s, ours is:
4) Children on the autism spectrum need to know there is recourse if they are starting to melt down. We have a ‘I need to take a break’ card that we can hand to a child who looks like he/she needs it. On the flip side of the card are some ideas (in pictures) she can look at for how to unwind: Mountain Breathing, Resting, Spinning, Watching. There is a place in the room designated for taking a break. We didn’t need to use that this year, but I believe it will be effective in the future.
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