As a parent, teacher or early childhood professional, you play a central role in the successful integration of your child with special needs into any environment.
Here are some strategies to help you modify your expectations and ensure your child’s experiences are successful. Keep in mind, however, that you are NOT lowering expectations; rather, you are making sure that your child stays engaged and is encouraged to keep learning.
1. Base your expectations on your child’s developmental level and physical ability – rather than chronological age or diagnosis.
2. Build your child’s confidence – adapt activities to promote self-esteem. For example, if your child is reluctant to participate in a large group, ease him in by carrying out activities in a smaller group first, to gain experience. Gradually increase the group size.
3. Provide structure – children need clear, firm guidelines for behaviour. Expect all children to follow the rules within reason. Your child will quickly learn cause and effect regardless of cognitive level.
4. Focus on your child’s strengths – recognize what your child is able to do as a starting point and new skills will be achieved more easily. For example, if your child has a good visual memory, use visual strategies to teach new skills.
5. Avoid doing for your child what they can do for themselves – provide the least amount of help that is needed and let your child do the rest. Teach skills in steps, adding another step as the previous one is mastered. For example, you may start off the zipper on your child’s jacket and then allow him pull it up the rest of the way.
6. Reduce your speech – use simple sentences, lots of gestures, and any visual supports, such as photos and picture symbols, to increase your child’s comprehension. You will find that this also promotes compliance. For example, “Lucas, tidy up the toys so the other children don’t fall down” can be simplified to “Lucas, tidy up”.
7. Speak for your child – when teaching social interaction, it is often necessary for you to let other children know your child’s intentions. For example, Kadeem walks towards a peer and bumps into him with a ball. The teacher may have noticed that this is how Kadeem initiates play and says to the other child, “Kadeem is telling you that he wants to play ball with you.”
8. Ask for help – access supports when you are unsure of what to try next.