“My kids have names, identities and self-respect”- Story of a Special Education Teacher
My journey with Taarana began in 2016. I teach children with special needs in Basic Academic, Lower Academic and Pre-vocational programmes.
I have always referred to my students as ‘my kids’ as they are an intrinsic part of my life. My kids are aged between 13 to 18 years old. Some of them are verbal, some are non-verbal or have speech delays, and most of them are taller than me!
Communication is a huge challenge between us, but definitely not a barrier.
Using picture exchange communication (PECs) helps but sometimes when a child lacks the motivation to use it, the journey becomes challenging and frustrating, but never impossible. It is a common sight to see teachers like me jumping with joy as though we have won a lottery when a child learns to sign a word.
I would do anything to understand them, that is why I started to read their body language signals, hand gestures and sometimes, my instinct helps too!
When the class begins, we always place a schedule on the board to help the students know and understand what to expect during the day. This helps to reduce their anxiety and stress level since having a set routine is important for children on the autism spectrum. Sometimes when the routine changes, we have to explain it to them carefully. Amazingly, they learn and adapt to the changes quite quickly.
But then again, the sky is not always blue.
There are times when my kids get physically aggressive. The first thing I do when that happens is to stay calm, because they can sense the shift in our emotions. I help the child to calm down by slowly leading him or her away from the crowd and to our calming room. There, we spend between 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the situation.
Children with special needs generally grow into adults who still have special needs. This is why I try to expose them to different types of activities that they could potentially encounter when working in a supported workshop by bringing these activities into the classroom.
I develop friendships with my kids by understanding their special interests and build their confidence to interact socially. During this time, I learn about their strengths and weaknesses and I adjust my teaching methods accordingly because each student has unique needs and we need to use different strategies to best educate them.
There is so much potential in them that you and I need to see, not only with our eyes but with our heart. Wrap your love with trust and you will see the beauty of the pure relationship they can offer you. Reach out to them with patience and perseverance.
Always remember, the best way to connect with any special child is through love and acceptance.