It was wonderful meeting with about 120 teachers, administrators & parents who are hoping to successfully include children with learning differences into their schools. First I gave a workshop, toured & finally met with administrators.
They are already accepting some children with ADD/ADHD & Asperger into their programs. They are already wondering how they will teach their current 23 children while meeting the needs of the 24th student who learns differently. The teachers are already asking if I think it is possible to teach 24 students with only two teachers in each classroom. The kindergarten is asking, the elementary is asking & the middle school is asking.
The classrooms, in one school, a school for 407 students, are nicely organized with designated centers to teach Math, Writing, Art, Circle Time, Play, Science and Language Arts. Several children share a table while doing their assignments or activity, no individual desks.
There is a written schedule for the students, a place for their water bottles & personal items. The rooms are colorful & happy places in which to learn.
I tell them it is great that they have labeled each center in words & perhaps a picture could be added that is meaningful. I suggested they might cover the shelves of enticing materials when they are not supposed to be available for children’s choice. I suggest that they remove wall materials & bring them out when they are actually being referred to, decreasing the amount of stimuli & making it easier for the child with learning difference to isolate what is important to attend to.
The presentation was divided into 3 parts. The first was looking at the difference between a typical child & a child with Autism. The second was a discussion on ADD/ADHD, the differences & what teachers can do to support. The final hour together was a period of questions & discussions.
They asked how do they get a child to play in a group of 5. She was 5 years old. I asked if the child knew how to share yet. I asked if the child could play with one other child yet. Did she know how to use the play materials? Yes she knew how to play with puzzles & blocks but not with the animals. I suggested they start with toys she clearly knew what to do with. I suggested they just pair her with one other child & divide materials in half & work on doing play together, sharing the materials (blocks, puzzle pieces). I suggested they wait for some time to expect her to join their imaginary play with animals. They must first teach her to play with animals.
Then they share with me about a new student who did not want to do anything but discuss the Universe. He was refusing to do anything else. This student had been diagnosed as Asperger. He was in Middle School. We discussed the concept of First/Then, Non-Preferred/Preferred. We discussed the need to be calm, but to build boundaries & expectations. We discussed the need to help the student learn that he cannot always do only what he wants. I showed them how to ask the student to only do a very, very short math problem before he gets to work on the Universe. They we discussed how to increase the number of math problems before working on the Universe.
One teacher explained that her student with special needs kicked or hit his friends to engage them. I asked if he knew how to play the games his friends did. I asked if he knew how to ask to join activities. They said they told him his friends would not like him or play if he was mean to them. I told them, that is only half the process. They must help him learn the expected behavior to use. We discussed using Carol Gray’s Social Story Curriculum and Michelle Garcia Winner’s Expected & Unexpected method to help this child learn. I discussed both strategies.
After the larger workshop had ended I met with the principals of each program, kindergarten, elementary and middle school. They were all so open to learning how to help support these included children.
We discussed the concerns of their teachers & the need for them to help mentor them. I suggested that they meet with each teacher & have them identify one or two suggestions I had made that they felt they could implement. Then I suggested the administrator help make it happen with them.
They shared that they do not always know if the child coming into the center has a specific learning challenge or what it is. We discussed the application process & ways to find out before a child starts. We discussed designing a different admission process for these children. Perhaps starting half day at first so the teachers can get to know them, the other children accept them & the student themselves learning the way this new school works. We discussed how important it is to work with the family on admissions & to involve them in all interventions used.
We discussed the need to teach teachers about disabilities, teaching strategies & classroom management. We discussed the need for them to truly identify the type of child they can take & how many they can place in each classroom before there is a negative effect on the children, the teachers & the school.
The administrators seemed very excited about the suggestions.
It is my hope to work with these teachers while I am home through email & to return again to mentor.