Friday, May 6, 2011

What You Should Know About Special Needs Kids - A Series... Part 4

Let's chat about having a chat with a special needs individual.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind that should help your conversation to flow more smoothly.

Special needs children don't often pick up on verbal cues.  For example, saying, "Your bedroom is a mess" is simply a statement of fact to them, not a cue to go clean their room.  Don't expect the child to guess at what you mean.  Just say exactly what it is you would like for them to do.

Be specific.  Using the messy bedroom example from above, you would need to give a little more descriptive information than simply, "Go clean your room."  Instead, say something like, "I need you to make up your bed, put your dirty clothes in the hamper and put all the books in the bookshelf."  Of course, this is a three-step command and depending upon the age and ability level of the child, you might consider breaking the task into single steps.

Don't assume that since you explained something yesterday, you won't need to explain it again today. Repetition is just a fact of life with special need kids.  Be patient!

Special needs individuals tend to take things very literally.  So using words like "maybe", "we'll see", or "later" can cause them needless anxiety.  Try to use very concrete words and answer their questions with a "yes" or "no" as often as possible.

Consider this scenario:

Question: "Can I play the Wii?"
Answer: "We'll see."
Question: "Does that mean I can or I can't?"
Answer: "I'm not sure right now.  We'll just have to wait and see what time we finish supper."
Question: "But what if I eat fast?  Then can I play the Wii?"
Answer: "I don't know for sure yet."
Question: "But when will you know?"

I think you can see where this conversation is headed.  The constant questioning, the anxiety of waiting without a deadline, and the pressure of wondering if the child can do what he wants to do will drive both of you nuts.

Instead, try having that same conversation like this:

Question: "Can I play the Wii?"
Answer: "We are going to eat supper, then clean up the kitchen and when the clock says 7:00, then you can play the Wii."
Question: "How long can I play the Wii?"
Answer: "You can play until the clock says 7:45.  Then you will take a shower and put your pajamas on."

These very concrete answers, along with the use of the clock, eases the child's tension.  He knows he will get to play the Wii and he knows what he needs to do before he plays.  He also can look at the clock  to see the time he can play rather than having to keep asking an adult and wondering if they are watching the time.

If the child is too young to read a clock face, you could use a timer.

Because special needs children take what you say as truth, avoid sayings and expressions that really don't make sense.  " I almost died laughing", "It's raining cats and dogs", "I'm just pulling your leg", or "You're cute as a bug" are absolutely meaningless statements to special needs kids.  And you'll either find yourself answering hundreds of questions as to why you said what you did or simply being stared at.

If you say you're going to do something, then you need to do it.  It's very important to keep your word because most of these kids don't forget when you promise them something.  They will remember if you told them you would bring bubbles as a special treat or take them to get ice cream.  So don't say something if you don't mean it - and don't forget the bubbles!

Give them time to talk.  Lots of us are uncomfortable with silence but sometimes these kids just need a little extra time to gather their thoughts, formulate what they want to say, then actually get it out.  Take it slow and allow them those few extra minutes.  Don't immediately jump in and try to speak for them or just assume that because they don't answer right away means that they can't.

Many special needs children have come up with their own unique ways of communicating.  Some may be a variation of American Sign Language.  Some may use a picture communication system.  Some may be through gestures and grunts.  And some may simply grab your hand and pull you over to whatever it is they would like, such as a snack or toy.  Take the time to learn and attempt to understand these unique methods of communication.  Try to learn some basic sign language.  Become familiar with how a picture exchange communication system works.  Talk to parents and therapists about possible training opportunities that will help you help their child.  The more effort  you put into understanding what the child is trying to tell you, the more they will attempt to communicate.

Speak clearly and concretely but not in a patronizing manner.  These children are not slow or dumb or ignoring you on purpose, even though it may appear that way at times.  They can pick up on the tone of your voice and the meaning behind your words.

In reality, all children, special needs or not, can benefit from this type of language.  At the end of the day, everyone wants to communicate, to feel like they are being listened to and understood.

1 comment:

  1. My kids fit almost all of these posts. Grace specifically. She is extremely shy and very uncomfortable in group settings, to the point where she cries uncontrollably. She doesnt like going to birthday parties or sleepovers unless it's a family member's party. My husband Is similar, but has learned how to deal with his anxiety. He struggled as a child. He's learned how to mask it for the most part, but it's still very evident to me. I've had to learn how to communicate in a completely different way with Grace, and it's been difficult. I am so different.
    Just one more reason your blog is awesome.


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