Back to School for Your Child With Special Needs

Children across Rowan County will be going back to school in the coming weeks. Parents’ lives will be filled with school supply shopping and back-to-school nights. For parents of children with special needs a little more preparation can be helpful. Here is some advice from local parents and professionals.

Countdown: Special Education veteran Jtan Whisenant suggests doing a visual countdown to help your child grasp that it’s time for school to start. This could be executed in many different forms. For example, a paper chain using a link for each day or numbers on index cards that lead to a picture of a bus. Whatever the visual implementation, the exercise is designed to help the child see something concrete because time is such an abstract concept.

Review Curriculum: Joy Childers, educator and mother of a son with Down syndrome, suggests familiarizing yourself with the curriculum you child will be learning and begin working on it before the school year begins.

Ease Into the Year: Whisenant also suggests easing the child back into the school schedule several weeks before it is time to start back. “Sometimes in the summer our routines get slack and it’s not fair to throw them back into that routine too suddenly,” she said. She suggests bringing concrete items into the daily routine before school starts, such as a back pack or lunch box. She also recommends reading stories about going back to school. Some good books to read with your child include  “Curious George and the First Day of School” or “Lama Lama Misses Mama.”

Familiar Ground: Childers also recommends touring the school with your child to show them where their classroom will be. She says this will help reduce stress.

Ashley Morgan Deaton, occupational therapist and co-owner of One Step At A Time Therapy Services, agrees with this tactic.  While touring the school, she recommends visiting the office and introducing your child to the personnel and talking about that being a safe place to go if he or she gets lost or confused.  She also recommends taking pictures of some of the rooms in the school (and a bus if they are planning to ride) and make a social story book with about a boy or girl who goes back to school and goes to all those places. “So much anxiety and sensory over stimulation will be averted if the child can conjure up mental images of school locations on that first day instead of everything being brand-new,” she said. Deaton recommends these tactics even if your child will be going back to the same school and to the same classroom. “A summer is a long time and they need to see these areas without the pressure of it being the first day back.”

Get to Know the Teacher: For a child with special needs, developing a strong relationship with his or her teacher is very important. Childers recommends establishing this relationship before the open house.  “Give them a list of positives and strengths along with weaknesses.  Many of our children have speech issues so it is good to make a scrapbook of pictures of people close to them as well as trips you’ve taken and favorites with a little blurb for each.  This gives the teachers something to talk about with your child as well as more background knowledge about your child,” she said.

Develop Regular Communication: When you have a non-verbal child, communication with his or her teacher is vital to a smooth school year. One the best ways to communicate, especially if you can’t see the teacher and/or therapists face-to-face each day is a journal or log. It can be as simple as a notebook or more involved including a custom sheet with your child’s daily schedule.

Every step you can take to help your child with a smooth transition will help him or her and the whole family throughout the school year.

Jill Wagoner is Secretary of the Board of Directors at Partners In Learning and the parent of a son with Down syndrome.

 

 

Jill Wagoner is the mother of a child with Down syndrome. She serves as an advocate, writer, speaker, fundraiser, and grant writer for organizations that support children with special needs. A former journalist and current marketer and public relations specialist, Jill has been published in many publications and blogs, including The Salisbury PostModern Parent, and Rowan Magazine.

 

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Communicating With Your Child With Special Needs

Raising a child with communication challenges can be both frustrating and heartbreaking. Watching your child struggle to communicate with others and become frustrated is both difficult and emotional. Children with special needs of all different diagnoses have a variety of levels of communication delays. Each child is unique and needs a custom approach to intervention, however, similar tactics may be helpful with many children with speech delays.

Create the Need For Communication

For children with a speech delay it is hard to communicate. The reason for the difficulty depends on the reason for the delay. It can be a motor planning issue, articulation difficulty, low muscle tone, neurological problem, or other reason. As adults, do we jump right at the opportunity to do something that is hard for us or do we put it off until we absolutely must address it? In order to encourage a child with a speech delay to practice talking (or communicating in another way such as word approximation, sign language, or using an augmentative communication device) one must create the need to communicate.

If a child can get a cookie by pointing to the jar, he or she is less likely to say the word cookie. As a care giver you first require the child to attempt to say the word to get the cookie. You move from attempting the word to saying the word, then on to a two-word phrase such as more cookie and the increasing the number of words into a full sentence.

In the already busy life of raising a child with special needs, among work, other children, and other obligations it is sometimes is hard to stop and practice this. After all it’s one more thing that takes more time in an already jam-packed schedule. But I promise you it can work and is worth it.

Communicating With Your Child

Some times when you have a child who doesn’t talk back or speaks very little, it’s easy to forget that children learn through conversation. By talking with our children we teach them vocabulary, the art of turn taking and other skills. Even if you have a young child who can not respond, you can talk to them about lots of things.

At the grocery store, talk them through the shopping list, what you are buying, point to symbols and letters on the packaging and talk about what you will use the items for.

At home talk to them while doing simple tasks around the house like laundry. Talk about the colors of the clothing or whose shirt it is you are folding. You could also talk about big and small, soft, and other descriptive words.

The point  is the more you talk to your child the better and it can be in simple every day ways.

Communicating With Teachers and Childcare Providers

When you have a non-verbal child, communication with his or her care givers is critical. There is no way of knowing what is going on the the majority of your child’s day at daycare or school if you don’t have good communication. One the best ways to communicate, especially if you can’t see the teacher and/or therapists face-to-face each day is a journal or log. It can be as simple as a notebook or more involved including a custom sheet with your child’s daily schedule. Any form will give you more information than you would have had.

When communication is a challenge, often simple and creative ways may a world of difference.

Jill Wagoner is Secretary of the Board of Directors at Partners In Learning and the parent of a son with Down syndrome.

Jill Wagoner is the mother of a child with Down syndrome. She serves as an advocate, writer, speaker, fundraiser, and grant writer for organizations that support children with special needs. A former journalist and current marketer and public relations specialist, Jill has been published in many publications and blogs, including The Salisbury Post, Modern Parent, and Rowan Magazine. She is Secretary of the Board at Partners In Learning.

Keeping Skills Sharp Over Summer Break For Children With Special Needs

Keeping skills sharp over summer break from school is important for all children and especially children with special needs. For children age three and older, educational services and therapies go on hiatus during all breaks, the longest being summer. It is vital that parents find ways to keep skills sharp over these breaks so their children do not regress in developmental and educational skills.

First let me say that this all must be balanced. After all, it is summer and your child needs a break. It’s important to find a balance between time off and productive skill-building time.

Summer activity chart for keeping activities top of mind.

It’s important to keep developmental goals top of mind so that those summer weeks don’t go by before you realize it. Summer is a busy time with camps, vacations, trips to the pool and more. It doesn’t matter how you keep developmental progress top of mind, but rather that you do. This could be a notebook, copy of your child’s IEP posted on the frig, or a white board. We have a small chart in the kitchen with a note card for each activity related to our son’s IEP for next school year that we want to work on weekly this summer. Each time we do an activity together the note card moves from the “To do” pocket to the “Done” pocket. This a simple way to do each activity one time per week and keep track of what we have and have not done. This works for us. Find what works for you.

 

This little guy played with a fine motor water station at a recent picnic. Then he got IN the water station. Does he look like he’s doing “work?”

The second thing to remember is that when you are asking a child to work on developmental and educational goals over the summer (or any time really) the more fun you can make it the better the result. The less it feels like work, the more they will be motivated. And the more you can use mediums you child loves the more focus and progress you will see (in my experience.) Find ways to incorporate activities that increase skills into every day and fun activities. For example, during a summer picnic, set up a fine motor water play station. For the children, it’s just play, but all the dumping, squeezing, and scooping is great fine motor work. They’ll have so much fun they’ll forget it’s work.

 

Fine motor, educational and sensory activity combined and it’s fun.

It’s always great if your therapists and teachers can give you ideas for over the summer. If you have the chance ask them. Here are just a few ideas of activities for the summer months.

  • Fill a pool, bucket or large container with water and find simple toys to dump, strain, or squeeze (never leave a child unsupervised around water)
  • Use JELL-O mix and a small amount of water to paint with
  • Use an old baby wipe container for pushing different size object in and pulling them out such as socks.
  • Use music to work on goals like counting, letters, etc.
There are so many ideas out there that it’s hard to make a long list. The ideas will vary, depending the the age and ability of the child. Pinterest has lots of great sensory play ideas Pinterest also has tons of activities. Have a productive and fun summer.

Jill Wagoner is Secretary of the Board of Directors at Partners In Learning and the parent of a son with Down syndrome.

 

Jill Wagoner is the mother of a child with Down syndrome who attends Partners In Learning. She serves as an advocate, writer, speaker, fundraiser, and grant writer for organizations that support children with special needs. A former journalist and current marketer and public relations specialist, Jill has been published in many publications and blogs, including The Salisbury Post, Modern Parent, and Rowan Magazine.

Addressing Challenging Behaviors in the Classroom

Challenging behavior in an early childhood classroom can significantly erode the learning environment and can even pose safety issues for classmates, teachers as well as the child who is unable to appropriately regulate his or her behavior. I have been working as the Community Inclusion Specialist for Partners In Learning for almost five years.  I serve the early childhood classrooms and home childcare facilities throughout Rowan County, and I am often referred to a classroom because of an individual child or several children with challenging behaviors.

All behavior is a form of communication. Challenging behavior is generally used to obtain or avoid something. Often a child will use misbehavior because he or she has not yet learned appropriate ways of interacting in particular situations. For example, on one occasion, I was asked to observe a three-year-old child who I was told hit and kicked other children throughout the school day. The class was on the playground when I arrived.  A teacher prompted the little girl I was there to observe to go and play in the sand with another child who was playing by himself.  She did as instructed, walking over, casting a large shadow over the other child. The child playing in the sand looked up and said something to our little girl and then returned to his sand project.  After standing over the little boy for several more seconds, the little girl proceeded to kick the child.  “See,” the teacher said.  “See what I mean.”  After discussing the situation with the teacher, what occurred to us was that this child lacked social skills and that her social emotional development was lagging behind those of her typically developing peers, so her teacher and I developed a plan to give her more opportunities to interact with peers, to use teacher-modeling appropriate behavior and partner this child as often as possible with a peer who has strong social-emotional skills.  We paired these strategies with consistent consequences, and within a few weeks we began to notice growth in the little girl’s social development.

The consequences attached to challenging behaviors are very important. If you observe a challenging behavior that continues over time, you can bet that the behavior is having the desired result, at least some of the time.  So, if you are consistent 80 percent of the time with a consequence that the child does not desire, the child understands that the behavior is effective 20 percent of the time and the child will continue using the behavior.  It is when the consequence is implemented every time the behavior is exhibited that you will see the behavior quickly diminish.  Do this along with problem-solving and modeling the appropriate behavior with the child. The formula is very simple. If the behavior gets you what you want, you’re going to use it.  If the behavior does not meet your objectives, you’ll adopt a behavior that does.

Katherine Generaux, Community Inclusion Specialist, Partners In Learning

Katherine Generaux serves as the center’s Community Inclusion Specialist. In that position she has been effective in modeling appropriate interactions with young children with special needs. Her ongoing presence in the classrooms modeling best practices for infants and toddler is resulting in additional experience while making a positive difference in early childhood programming. She is very aware of what is developmentally appropriate and engaging with the children. Her birth through kindergarten degree and experience are evident in her service to children and families.

Partnering With Parents

We are very excited for the opportunity to share with our community Partners In Parenting, a blog focused on helping families of all make ups with issues care givers and children face today brought to you by Partners In Learning Child Development and Family Resource Center.

This blog will offer a wealth of information from experts in the fields of child development, early intervention and nutrition. Our panel of bloggers includes both parents and professionals affiliated with Partners In Learning Child Development and Family Resource Center.

Situated on the Catawba College campus, Partners In Learning serves as the Model Inclusive Center providing care to children six weeks through five years of age in Rowan County.  The Center is the only Five Star Licensed, Nationally Accredited Program in the county caring for more than 200 children six weeks through twelve years old each year. Partners In Learning opened its doors in the spring of 1996 and has blossomed into a campus of four buildings with ten classrooms and two therapy rooms. We also serve more than 100 children with special needs on-site at Partners In Learning, in child care centers throughout the community, as well as in the children’s homes. We also offer family support programs.

Through this blog we will bring you advice, information, issues and insight on parenting, behavior, nutrition, family issues, child development and issues facing families of children with special needs. We welcome your suggestions on topics, questions and input.