How do we plan activities for a special education or resource room students? As with any consideration in special needs education, it is crucial to understand what the special needs are. Do the students have physical or emotional difficulties? Are there developmentally disabled students? Do we have students with learning disabilities? Vision or hearing impairment? We can then base our activities around the needs. Here are some general considerations followed by some specific ones later.
- Be mindful of the unique stressors that your special needs students face. What might seem like fun to a mainstream student could be terrifying for an autistic student.
- Monitor the sensory stimulation: new sounds, smells, tastes and touch.
- Change is very difficult for many special needs students. Their comfort zone is narrow; new things can be very intimidating. Assure them of their personal safety.
- Limit variables in the environment. Many students experience sensory overload, so keep as much consistent as possible. Even going to lessons like art or music can be traumatic.
- Be prepared for difficult times by being calm and consistent. This will build your students' confidence in new situations.
- Discuss options with students. Often a special needs child can see only one choice -- 'fight or flight.' Brainstorm with them what to do if they feel endangered (ask an adult, go into the hallway, etc.).
- Follow through by alerting other staff or adults as to the details of the student's plan.
- Be up-front with your other students, especially the mainstream ones. Explain the situation and assure them that they will be kept safe. Talk with them about how to interact with special needs students.
- When choosing activities, talk with your students. Ask them how they feel and what they would enjoy. This tends to be a good time for a language lesson. Write their thoughts on the board. Use a KWL chart if they can do this (K-what I know about what we are doing, W-what I want to learn, L-what I learned). The KWL is finished after the activity.
- For in-class activities, opt for simple rather than complicated. This advice holds for all students. They have a greater opportunity for success. The biggest goal for most activities is generally positive interaction and communication, along with exposure to new things.
- For Cooking -- Use the refrigerated dough and let them decorate the cookies. Use recipes with simple ingredients that they like -- pizza, cake mix, tacos, pasta, salads.
- For Art -- Select projects that encourage free form, like clay, finger paint, pastels and collage. The key is participation and exploration of media.
- For Science -- Stick with basics like weather, plants, animals, vehicles, safety and health. These are factors in the students' environment. They often need help learning how to cope and interact. The curriculum choices must be meaningful to their lives directly.
- For Music -- I liked the music therapy approach. We used song, dance and rhythm to create a peaceful, happy atmosphere. Choose songs with a positive theme. Mr. Rogers' website has recorded most of his songs and I believe they are among the best.
- For Social Studies -- Look at maps. Have guests from other nations come to speak. Focus on community and how we interact in our local, national and global community.
- For field trips -- Keep them simple, safe and well-supervised. Try to make it an extension of their safety zone. Find resources with simple, organized programs.
I wish you well in your endeavors with our special needs children and citizens. Keep up your great work!