Prioritizing Students’ Friendships in Pods and Classrooms

Children playing in fountain

If the Corona virus epidemic has taught us anything, it probably is the value of friends and family in negotiating our way through difficult periods. Talking to friends and catching up on Zoom allow us to share how we feel in our dark moments. Friendships empower us to face reality and to realize that we are still ok and sane!

Even though we can strengthen our existing friendships remotely, it is generally more difficult to develop new friendships online. Existing friendships are what we capitalize on in difficult times.

This Cornavirus time is, therefore, another wake-up call for us to seriously reflect on how to assist students with special needs to develop friendships. I was struck by a recent posting by a mother of a child with special needs. It vividly describes the plight of a boy who does not have friends. She wrote:

I’ve been doing this for 19 years, so I’m used to it. But really, no, not doing okay. I’m so depressed and sad for him. He is lonely and anxious and doesn’t understand why people don’t want to be with him. He’s lovable but they can only take him in doses. His sadness turns to rage, on me mostly. And I stand there with my invisible shield on and I take it. Because no one else can or will take it from him. I’m going to be there for him no matter what. And right now, during this…pandemic, I have to be here for him 24/7. Because he has nothing to do and because he’s so full of anxiety. It’s really hard. 

This mother’s cry for help is not uncommon, and it requires our attention. The posting highlights the boy’s isolation and lack of friendships. It also describes the parent’s desperation within this context. While some parents of typical students could probably identify with this mother, the extent of the challenges are different when you have a child with a significant disability.

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Guidelines for parents: How to play with my child who is nonverbal- Beginning play level

 

How do I play with my young child who is nonverbal? Expansion from where your child is at..

It is not uncommon for parents to express uncertainty about how to go about playing with young children who are not able to express themselves. These children often have a limited repertoire of toys that they are interested in. All we need for play is to identify one toy (e.g. teddy), action (e.g. jumping), or object (e.g.. car) that the child is interested in and use it as a basis for play. We want to be aware of what the child is interested in and then for us to extend what s/he does with the toy/object to expand involvement with us and the toy/object or action. 

My child is in school already, why should s/he still learn to play like this?

There is a direct link between children’s ability to play with themselves and others, and their ability to learn.  This also applies for children of school -going age. Children learn primarily through play. They make up action stories (e.g. the doggie runs in the yard, he runs fast, he sees daddy coming in the car, what does the doggie do? He runs to the car to greet daddy). In playing out a simple story like this, they learn about sequential actions and logical outcomes. If we can get a young child to play like this, s/he is  well on the way to learning. 

What toys do I use?

We need to watch carefully what toys the child spontaneously engages with. We need to observe how s/he uses the toys to develop their play skills. Allow yourself to expand play around the object of your child’s interest by adding one or two ideas that you think the child might relate to. Parents can be most intuitive in knowing what a child might enjoy – and if it doesn’t work, then you can try with another object/action/toy later on.  It is not how many times we have to try that is important, but where we are heading for!

Gaining a young child’s attention is often difficult and expanding that interest to include a slightly longer engagement with the toy can be quite difficult at first. Remember this is an activity that you and your child should enjoy together. Don’t allow a play session to change into a “teaching session”. The idea is to have fun together. Play, communication and learning can only happen when a child is interested and enjoy what they are doing with you. 

So how do I do this? Continue reading “Guidelines for parents: How to play with my child who is nonverbal- Beginning play level”

Story-time with Erna #1: For Parents and Their Young Children during the Time of the Coronavirus

Woman reading story to her child

One of the great joys in my life as a young child was the experience of listening to stories my grandmother told us. These stories were quite unique, as they were folk tales that were orally communicated from generation to generation. All these stories were about animals—for example, The lion and the Jackal, Jackal and Wolf, Crab and the Jackal, etc. In my retelling of these stories, I am using the book  Famous South African Folk Tales by Pieter W Grobbelaar and Sean Verster.

Although the main purpose of this presentation is enjoyment, these stories also provide great opportunities for parents to talk to their children about the content of the stories to ensure that they understand what happened;  and why certain characters acted in certain ways. There is no better way to enhance children’s learning than to focus on their ability to understand oral and written language. At the end of the story, I will provide a couple of pointers on how parents can facilitate talking about the story with their children.

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How Do We Promote Engagement in Interactions with Students Who Use AAC?

I have often been surprised to discover how therapists and teachers (myself included!) become so wrapped up in daily toil and activities that we are exhausted by 10:00 in the morning. Although we often admit this is not a state of mind we necessarily are content with, changing how we do things can be really difficult. Being busy makes us feel like we are productive and engaged professionals—but are we really? How is this “being busy” really benefiting our interaction with our students? This question is even more relevant when it comes to how we support students who use AAC to become engaged with others in interaction. Continue reading “How Do We Promote Engagement in Interactions with Students Who Use AAC?”