Do You Treat Your Child with Special Needs Like a Child First?

Do You Treat Your Child with Special Needs Like a Child First?

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Several years ago I was working with a young girl who needed homebound services because she was too medically fragile to attend school. I was both her speech/language therapist and her teacher. It was my job to teach her some communication skills and to stimulate her thinking and to explore what she was able to learn.

Nearly everyday that I provided services, this little girl’s grandmother would watch me work. Near the beginning of my journey with this student, I was trying to find out what was reinforcing for her. The only information that I got from the parents was that she liked a light that lit up and a musical toy. This child had multiple disabilities. She had low vision, was non-verbal, was not able to stand or walk and had limited movement of her arms.

One day I brought one of my daughter’s baby dolls with me. Many little girls like dolls right? I asked my student if she would “hold” my baby and I placed the doll in her arms. She kept turning her head and looking toward the doll. Again and again she would turn her head to look at the doll. She acted as though she had never seen a baby doll!

I had pre-programmed a voice output device to answer my questions with a “yes”. The goal of this particular lesson was for the student to activate this device if the answer was indeed yes to my question. So I took the baby out of her arms and then asked if she would like to hold my baby doll again. She activated the device. Then I asked her if she would “babysit” for me while I went into the other room. Again she activated the device. “Yes”. When I returned to the room, I asked if she wanted me to take the baby back. No response. That was her way of telling me “no”.

As she continued to hold on to the baby doll and look at her, I glanced over to grandma sitting in her chair. Grandma was crying. I said, “Are you ok?” She looked at me and said, “ I am so sad because as I’m watching my granddaughter enjoy this baby doll, it never ever occurred to me to buy her one.   Why didn’t I think of that?”

Obviously grandma was feeling guilty that she had not thought of her granddaughter as a child first. She thought of the things she couldn’t do, but not the things she could do and enjoy. I told grandma to go and buy her one now since she was enjoying it so much….and she did.

This is also a child that I put on time out one day when she refused to work! Yes, I put a child with low vision, non-verbal, on oxygen, in a wheel chair, who had low cognitive abilities on TIME OUT. GASP!!! Why? Because she was refusing to work…not because she was tired ( I could always tell when that happened), not because she couldn’t do the work, but because she was being defiant. What do you do with a child who is being defiant? You set limits. I wheeled her into the kitchen with her voice out put device programmed to get my attention if she wanted to communicate with me. I told her that she was on time out and that when she was ready to work, I’d come back and get her.

Mom happened to be home at the time so she and I started talking about all kinds of wonderful, fun things that the student loved to be part of. Sure enough within a couple of minutes we heard her activate the device letting me know she was ready to work!  ( by the way, I had mom’s full support with the time out consequence 🙂 )

Why did I put such a fragile student with multiple disabilities on time out? Because in my mind, she was a child first. Funny thing…I never had to do that again!!!

Check out the video to find out why it is so important to think of our children with disabilities as children first!

For my subscribers, I promised an update on what happened with the young boy I talked about in the video. The parents were very motivated to change things and they agreed to a visual schedule for both after school and in the morning before the bus arrived. I also provided them with a token board with reinforcers. The little boy gets a star each time he goes to bed nicely and gets on the bus without incident. For every two stars, he gets to watch a favorite video. For every 10 stars, he gets a trip to his favorite place on the planet. A local pizza place!!!

The results: For the first couple of days, he was pitching a fit about going home at the end of the school day (which never happened before!)   Home was providing structure and limits. He was no longer calling the shots and he was not happy! That’s OK!!! It’s not our job as parents and educators to always make children happy. Two thumbs up for the parents! They have begun to follow through with the plan. Now he’s getting on the bus from school without incident. I’m thinking things are going well or at least getting better at home. Watch for updates!

I hope today’s video and blog help to shape a healthy attitude about what our students can do if we challenge them to be the best they can be. They’re children first!

You take care and I’ll see you next time!


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