From Our Guest Contributors
All children have value and worth and they need to feel that they have a place that they belong. Children each have different needs. Some children may have more needs than other children. It is important to create an environment in which all children can grow, learn, and play in ways that can truly help them to feel how valuable and worthy they are. Differences should not be a reason to feel excluded and with a little bit of effort and knowledge children with special needs can feel that they too have value and worth.
At meal and snack times eat together. Have consistency: a seating arrangement, place settings the same each day, a set time for meals and snack. Children that are blind or visually impaired will need you to tell them where their food is located on their plate. Younger blind or visually impaired children may need their hand guided to the food on their plate to their mouth. Make eye contact and maintain it when assisting a child that is hearing impaired. If a child is unable to sit in a standard chair safely provide them an alternative such as a Special Tomato Soft-Touch Sitter available from especialneeds.com.
If a child has a feeding tube and is unable to eat they can benefit from sight, sound, and smells of others eating. Tasting foods may be a bit of a challenge for children with feeding tubes or sensory issues as they may not have had much opportunity to experience oral sensations of different textures and tastes. With permission from parents and doctors, offer the child samples and/or taste of the foods you are eating. Parents and/or an occupational therapist are a great resource on how best to offer taste and samples of food to their child. Allow children an opportunity to experience the process of getting to know food.
Place food on their tray or table and allow them to touch the food. The child may not touch it or they may make a mess as they feel the food in their hands. That’s OK!! Children need to go through the process of exploring foods and learning that food is good thing. For children that are old enough offer them a bowl, spoon and fork to encourage feeding simulation through play. Be aware of any food allergies, food sensitivities and foods that can be a choking risk for each child. Make meal and snack times a pleasant, relaxed, and non-stressful experience.
Art and Craft Time:
Arts and crafts time can be a struggle for some children with special needs. Adapt projects to fit different skills levels. For example, have some sets of pre-cut items on hand for children that are unable to cut. Offer choices such as painting with fingers or with a paint brush. Children with sensor issues may not be able to handle the sensation of paint on their fingers but may enjoy painting with a paint brush. Also, be aware of the smells that some art and crafts supplies have, as they can be over-stimulating to some children. Try to use low-odor supplies as much as possible.
When working with visually impaired or blind children try using materials that have different textures or scents. Place their materials and supplies on a tray that has good color contrast. Let the child examine and feel a completed project and discuss with them about the different parts of the projects.
Allow children to create their own masterpieces and don’t expect it to look like everyone else’s. Minimize your assistance as much as possible. The beauty is in the work that they did to complete the project.
It may be necessary to purchase adaptive supplies to help a child to be more independent and to feel successful. Some items that may be helpful are adaptive scissors and easy grip supplies such as pencils, paintbrushes and crayons. Adaptive art supplies can be purchased online at:
Tactile and Sensory Activities:
Children with special needs will differ in their response to tactile and sensory activities. Some children need lots of sensory stimulation while others will find it very challenging. Try having several different types of tactile/sensory bins available. If using large sensory tables have a couple of small plastic bins with an alternative /tactile/sensory activity available for use. For instance, if you are using wet noodles in your sensory table have a couple of bins with dry noodles available and give all children a choice of which one they would like to play in. The bins should be shared and children should be encouraged to play and explore the bins together.
Create a space that is accessible and inclusive for all students. Provide ample room for all children to move around with or without assistive devices such as wheelchairs or walkers. Design areas that facilitate cooperative learning and play for all children. Have materials/toys/supplies easily within reach of all children. Establish rules and guidance for assisting children with assistive devices; such as who can move or lift the child and where assistive devices will be stored when not in use.
My personal experience is to allow my children to safely try new things and to experience things similar to their siblings as much as possible. We encourage independence but give prompts and stay very close to assist when needed. For instance, we encouraged Cassiana to walk up the stairs with support rather than carry her up and down them. Yes, it would have been faster to carry her but it would not have been of any benefit to her. Adalena cannot walk or stand on her own but we encourage her to discover and learn mobility by using special walkers that support her and allow her the freedom of movement without always being held or being stuck in one spot.