Caring for Children With Special Needs: Physical Impairments and Differences
As a practical sort, I wish to incorporate articles that others can use immediately in the classroom. This article serves to provide accommodations that will help students with physical impairments adjust in a classroom setting. Most adjustments are simple and easy for any teacher to incorporate. The following suggestions are copied straight from the article.
Create a safe environment for ALL children.
Safety planning must include the specific needs of a child with a physical impairment. For example, a skidding rug is a hazard for all children, but it is especially hazardous for a child who uses crutches. It isn't enough to have traffic lanes wide enough for a wheelchair to navigate-the traffic lanes must be kept free of obstructions such as play equipment, chairs, and scattered toys. Your emergency exit plan must take into account a child with physical limitations. Make sure that all staff members know the plan.
Make play materials (and play areas) accessible.
Remember that a child who uses a walker to get around may not be able to carry toys from one place to another. Watch the child during periods of play. Are there areas that are inaccessible? Sometimes a play area seems accessible when there are no children playing in it, but in reality is too crowded or narrow when occupied by children. Are there play materials that the child with a physical impairment is trying to reach, but can't?
Select and place toys, play materials, and play equipment to encourage social interaction.
You can promote social interaction by being alert to what goes on naturally among children. You also can decide which children will play together in semi-structured activities. For example, you may want to pair two children in a rocking boat or provide a giant picture book to look at together. Include children in all activities. A child may not be able to take part in a particular game, but she can keep score; she may not be able to jump rope, but she can turn the rope. Look for meaningful ways to include all children in an activity.
Arrange your environment so that children with ALL kinds of abilities can explore and play with the things you provide.
Remember that some children cannot reach the floor (if he uses a wheelchair or walker) and some cannot get play materials off a high shelf. Other children may not be able to grasp and carry objects with both hands. Some children cannot lift and carry relatively heavy things. Your environment should reflect the needs of the children in your care.
Create an environment that allows every child to be as independent as possible.
Be creative about ordinary items, such as potty chairs and towels. For example, is the toilet paper accessible to a child who only uses her left hand? Joaquin has cerebral palsy and is just learning to feed himself. Does his dish slip around on the table when he scoops up his food with a spoon? A piece of inexpensive non-slip rug backing used as a placemat may prevent the plate from slipping around.
Even if a task takes longer for a child with a physical difficulty, let her try it first, without immediately rescuing her. Putting on a coat can be accomplished in many ways. One way that may work well for a child with a physical impairment is to place the child's opened coat on a child-sized chair (as though the child had slipped out of it while sitting on the chair) and have the child sit on that chair and slip her arms into the sleeves and shrug on the coat.
Change rules when necessary.
Adjusting the rules of a game so that all children can play is good. This helps other children learn that we can accommodate for our friends who have different abilities. Having children help one another is good, too. For example, you can quietly comment about everyday interactions: "Jackson, when you held the door open for Stacey, it was easy for her to get her wheelchair through. See how she is smiling at you?"
Give children an opportunity to express their concerns about physical differences.
Respond to their questions in a casual but honest way. For example, in a circle game you may see Jolene wondering how to hold hands with Jennifer who is sitting in a wheelchair. This would offer an opportunity for you (and the child in the wheelchair) to point out that they can still hold hands, and that maybe Jolene can help push the wheelchair when it's time for Jennifer to turn around in place.
Help your staff look at each child's needs.
Remember that you cannot make generalizations. Think of the things a child can do, rather than things a child cannot do. Remind your staff that pity doesn't help anyone; we want to share a positive attitude. Parents may be struggling with their feelings, or they may be joyous about their child's accomplishments. Child care providers need to be positive and supportive.
Brainstorm about solutions to various situations.
Ask the child for guidance, try different solutions, consult with other people, and keep looking at ways to make things even more accessible in your program. Remember that activities change, children change, and we're never done being accessible. Parents may have figured out a strategy that allows their child to accomplish a task. Therapists often have a lot of ideas for simple adaptations and modifications.
Consider the child's parents, who might be struggling, too.
Parents may have fears about their child being accepted. Here are some common comments from parents about their child's disability:
"I don't want teachers to see his little arm as the most important part of him. If a teacher will just take a few minutes and watch what he can do, she'll see that he can do everything. Sometimes he has to figure out how to do it, but gee just give him a chance."
"I like places that believe my child can do anything. They let Carrie try everything that other children are doing. If she can't do it 100 percent by herself, then they help with the little bit she can't do."
"Our family child care provider said that all the children went outside to play every day and that Gerri's wheelchair would be too much trouble to take outside. Now that I think about it, maybe a simple ramp could have been installed in the back of the house, or we could have left an older wheelchair to store in the garage for her to use during outside play. But we needed her at a center where outdoor accessibility was not a problem."
Keep in mind that you are a role model.
Child care providers teach children acceptable ways of relating to children with physical differences by how they act. These lessons stick with children long after they leave your care. Your goal is to teach kindness, inclusiveness, and appreciation for everybody's differences. It's up to you to set the tone.
I have not taught a class with a physically impaired student, but I did attend high school with several students who were physically impaired. These students took the same classes, and joined the same clubs. There was no mental difference between us. Most often, their biggest problem was socializing in society. I believe just about every student was considerate and respectful of him or her, but it had to be hard being so different in a high school environment. Even still, the above suggestions could help with transitioning and helping these students feel safe and secure in the classroom.
Doreen B. Greenstein
Submitted by Travis Bouldin