Guest Author - Monica J. Foster
How can teachers and students create a better classroom experience for a student with a disability? There are several ways, from subtle to more direct ways to make a child with a disability feel more included and help them flourish in the school setting, regardless of what grade.
Disperse students with disabilities around the classroom as their needs and preferences dictate instead of cramming and segregating them all in the back of the room. They need to be included. Some students may be able to hear and pay attention better in the front of the classroom. Some students with disabilities may prefer to sit in theback nearer the restroom to make discretely leaving the room for bathroom breaks quieter. Talk to the parents and the student about what works best.
Activities and Communication
Encourage students with disabilities to participate in class and in activities. I was encouraged as a child on crutches to get up and turn my own papers in as I was able and to help the teacher pass out papers. If a student has a speech impediment, be patient and allow them to speak without finishing their sentences. Discuss this with the others students as well to help them understand that it's important that each student have a voice. Make sure you call on them for answers just as often as the rest of the class.
You might find the exercise of using a peer buddy useful for students with physical disabilities. Peer buddies assist the student with papers and books during class and may be good to help push a student in a wheelchair back and forth from lunch, the library or a school assembly. That will also depend on the whether the student has an aide on staff at the school to. Keep lines of communication open about preference and IEP needs. Rotate peer buddies on a weekly or monthly basis. Students without disabilities sometimes fought over who would walk with me to lunch and it made me feel good for my attention to be competed for. Teachers could use peer buddy assignment as a reward for good behavior and being a responsible student as well.
Education is a key to success for students with disabilities. Talk to them about college and career opportunities. Encourage and challenge them to do their best and ask them what they want to do when they grow up. Suggest books, activities and more to encourage their growth, development of future goals and more. Everyone, with or without a disability, deserves the opportunity to set goals.
A friend of mine has erebral palsy and he tells me that some students with cerebral palsy have a keen startle reflex. This is when a student jumps easily at a noise or sudden action. Prepare a student if you know something sudden will happen, such as a fire drill and prepare their classmates by asking them not to come up suddenly to the student or too quietly. The startle reflex can be frightening, painful and unnecessarily embarassing.
Books on Tape/Book Holders
Holding a book can be a difficult task for a student with cerebral palsy or other manual dexterity issues. As a teacher, you might think that they are deficient in reading when they are simply unable to hold the book due to strength and tremor issues. Try a book holder, page-turner, or books on tape. In most cases, students like to read, but have a hard time physically holding the book.
Encourage students to learn about computers and how to use computers. Computers are an excellent tool for independence and may be the key to a future career. Discuss with the child and their family about screen readers, typing aids and more to help the child develop good technical skills.
Teach every student in the classroom and their families about disabilities. Promote disability history talks, books about people with disabilities and answer any questions students have about disability to encourage curiousity and understanding. Invite guest speakers who have disabilities (like myself) to talk about their experiences growing up with a disability. This not only educates the students without disabilities, but encourages the development of role models for the student with disabilities. The more students know about people with disabilities and their countless abilities, the more accepting they will be about their classmates and peers who have disabilities. And, seeing that adults with disabilities can be successful monumentally boosts a student with disabilities' self esteem.
Encourage students without disabilities to see their classmates without disabilities as choice team mates during an extracurricular activity, during classroom team activities and more. Pair students with disabilities up with students without disabilities for class projects so each students strengths are used to the benefit of the pairing during the project. This will not only break down barriers of communication and fear of working with someone with a disability, but will help the child with a disability showcase their strengths and build friendships in class.
From teachers to students to parents, we can all be part of the smooth integration and boost in development for students with disabilities. With a little creative thinking and team work, the educational experience can expand ewell beyond the "Three R's".