Los Angeles' Schools Struggle to Integrate Special Education Students
How to Socially Integrate Students with Special Needs
Integrating students with special needs in any context is a challenging task. Educators, parents, administrators, and even the students themselves are involved in this difficult process. When successfully done, integration is a rewarding experience. Don't think for a minute that it is a one and done process, though. Integration, like anything dynamic, requires regular maintenance.
Know your students. Knowing begins with reviewing their educational file. In many schools these files are monitored and kept under lock and key to protect individual privacy. Ask the special needs coordinator for access, or arrange to review the file with the Special Education teacher assigned to that student. Asking around about them helps you to know more about their personality and habits: are they active or calm, clever or struggling, conscientious or careless, obedient or mischievous?
Meet with the team. In modern educational systems, professional learning communities are utilized to assure every student is afforded every opportunity. Meet regularly with all professionals tasked with that child's education. Document these meetings.
- A thorough record will be useful for tracking strategies used. Integrating special needs people of any age into social contexts means meeting with those who care about that person.
Regularly review the IEP.Individual Education Plans address weaknesses as well as strengths. Thoroughly reviewing the IEP assures that the child gets what is needed. If it is on the IEP, experts have decided the best course of action for the child is identified. Don't ignore anything on an IEP.
- Often, IEPs suggest processes that might help within social contexts outside the classroom. The primary concern in a social context is assuring the individual's needs are met with no violation of that individual's rights.
Follow the IEP. Every learner, even those not identified as having special needs, have rights to an unrestricted education. By not following an IEP, many educators violate these learners' rights.
- If a situation arises that prevents adherence to the IEP, notify administrators immediately. Email is best because it creates a record of your attempt to resolve the problem.
- Outside the classroom, an IEP may not be available, so follow those practices and procedures which are most familiar to the individual. Don't impose on them a social context without the support of members who care.
Document everything. While lesson plans, attendance records, and homework files create a regular record of activities, keeping a register of actions for each special needs accommodation is extremely helpful.
- Use shorthand or abbreviations. The idea behind record keeping is not to inundate educators with excessive documentation tasks. Brief is best.
- Often personal letters and diary entries can document the social interactions of special needs people in contexts outside the classroom.
Get the help of other adults.Inclusion is a community effort, and the student's team can work together to help make it happen. Consider aides, tutors, therapists, and paraprofessionals.
- Talk to other content area professionals. Collaborate on projects together.
- Visit the resource room during plan time. Often you can reinforce an idea just by visiting the child in a different environment.
- In the absence of the school context, use community resources. Most communities have a disabilities services association. They provide valuable insight as well as opportunities for social interaction for persons with special needs.
Talk with the student. Ask them what they are learning, what they are struggling with, and how you can help. This encourages the student to trust and open up to you. It also gives you a sense of their priorities.
- What are the student's goals? How badly do they want to make friends, and are there any particular people whom they would like to make friends with?
- Some students are okay with one or two close friends, while others want a wide circle of friends. A few are okay with having no friends. Find out how much
Plan for variety. Multiple intelligences, project learning, and cooperative learning structures all provide strategies for delivering content to different learners. These strategies work outside the classroom too. Introducing special needs persons to social expectations should be taught the same way.
Review activities. When possible, videotape, photograph, and write about experiences and review them before dropping a strategy.
- Keep a log or diary of what works and doesn't work. Remember that none of the strategies you employ will work for all individuals, so be ready to reteach.
Reteach, retry, and revise. Every new concept should be revisited at least twice. Research shows that students can't retain information that hasn't been presented to them at least three times. The strength of understanding is increased when it is presented more than that and in a variety of ways. This is also true in social contexts.
Crack down on bullying.Students with disabilities are at risk for bullying, so it's important to send the message that you will not allow anyone to treat others with disrespect (whether the victim is disabled or not).
- Explain that adults can be bullies too, and that bullying is the fault of the bully, not of the victim. Emphasize that bullying is wrong.
- Don't push the disabled student into spending time with students that they don't want to be with. Being alone is better than being pushed to spend time with mean or indifferent children, and being told that these people are your friends.Let the student choose which people they are comfortable with (if any).
Encourage your students to develop good character and good values.You can help by being a good role model, and always treating your students with dignity. You can also talk about values and character in your classroom activities.
- Treat the student with the same respect that you want other students to give them.
- Be fair. Don't expect the special needs student to follow rules that other students are allowed to break.
Encourage assertiveness skills.All students, disabled ones in particular, need to know life skills like saying "no," respecting bodily autonomy, and so on.
- You need to respect personal space too. For example, if a student is fidgeting with their hands, it is not okay to grab their hands and force them to stop.
- If you're making a demand, phrase it as a demand. If you're making a request that doesn't have to be followed, phrase it as a question, and respect the student's choice.
Teach students to respect the different needs of others.Some people don't make eye contact when talking, some people wear hearing aids, some people rock back and forth, some people have aides, et cetera. Teach your students that these things are normal and okay. If you treat it like it's a fact of life, your students will learn that it's not a big deal, and disabled children are people like anyone else.
- Don't try to push the special needs student to become indistinguishable from their peers. Instead, focus on helping them build on their strengths and improve their weaknesses.
Try pairing the special needs student with other students who seem friendly.For group projects, intentionally pair the disabled student with someone who seems like they might be a good friend. Sometimes, this is the only push they need to become friends.
- It won't always lead to friendship, and that's okay.
Relax.You don't have to orchestrate every single part of the student's social life. You're just one person, and the person need to be able to act independently too.
- Avoid pushing unwilling children together. They're likely to resent the interference, and rebel by not becoming friends.
- It's okay if the student is alone sometimes. It only becomes a problem if the student is often alone, and doesn't want to be.
- Read up on the needs of individuals. Consult expert resources, subscribe to news feeds, streaming data and articles on the topic.
- Understand that integration is a community task. You are part of the entire process, but it is not one individual's responsibility, or even ability to accomplish full integration.
Sources and Citations
- - Thomas Armstrong provides professional development for educators needing to provide instruction for special needs children.
- The American Psychiatric Association
- The Complete Guide to Creating a Special Needs Life Planby Hal Wright, ISBN: 9781849059145.
- Government guidelines for educating children with special needs.
Video: Community Integration for students with Special Needs in Episode 104 of Transition Tuesday
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