Challenges for a New School Year

Every school year brings new challenges and this year is no different. This year I am striving to answer the questions, “What do you do when children are participating in the general education classrooms and are more than 2 or 3 years behind their classmates?”    I have several children in kindergarten and 1st grade who fit this description.  They have disabilities such as autism or Down Syndrome.  Because they are closer to a developmental age level of 3 yrs., they have difficulty focusing on tasks longer than 5 minutes and may not understand directions and materials presented verbally to the class.  With kindergarten class sizes of 30 or more the teachers have a real challenge keeping everyone focused and attending to a given task.  Play and social skills have taken a backseat to academics. The Kindergarten curriculum has become more demanding teaching reading, writing, and math skills in more formalized instruction. It is difficult for children to relate and stay focused to paper pencil tasks when they relate better to objects and manipulating them.  The result is children wandering on the fringes and not engaging in the instruction. They easily become frustrated and interrupt instruction when they can’t get their needs met.

In my location, the SLP is often the case manager for the students in lower grade levels because they have an eligibility of Communication Disability out of early childhood programs.  They start in the least restrictive environment which is regular kindergarten.  Schools do not automatically assign educational assistants (EA) to an individual child.  Research studies indicate this creates dependency and hinders their development academically and socially.  Even if there is an adult assigned to the room, the goal is to train the child to complete tasks independently and reduce the EA time.  The SLP is responsible for training the EA, and making sure a program is set up to meet IEP goals.  Districts are often feeling the pinch economically when hiring EAs and require data to be taken to prove the EA is needed.  This results in an increased workload as data plans, and functional behavior plans are formulated in the first few weeks of school.  In some cases, there is help given from the autism specialist and occupational therapist.

So what can be done to make a child more independent, on task, and productive in learning skills to their level?  Setting up visual schedules and workstations can be very helpful toward keeping them engaged and productive.  The child begins to learn what is expected of him in class and it decreases the power struggles. When a child learns how to work off a schedule they become less dependent on an adult to tell them what to do.  The workstations allow the child to complete tasks more appropriate to their level, in shorter time segments so there is less frustration.

Children often respond well to visual schedules.  They may relate better to one specific to their needs rather than the one posted on a wall for the class.  An individualized schedule can allow for breaks and activities in 5 to 10 minute intervals rather than the usual 20 minute class routine.   This allows the child to start with classmates and then move to more appropriate task that they can successfully complete. They can earn points by completing tasks and work toward a chosen activity.  This allows for more frequent breaks and immediate reinforcement.  Some children can adapt to a schedule rather quickly, however most will need the help of an adult at least initially.

A work system can be set up in bins, drawers, or folders.  The child is assigned a number of tasks that are labeled in some fashion.  This could be drawers 1, 2, and 3 for example. .  The tasks are placed in the drawers, bins, or folders. The child is given an if/ then card.  He chooses his reinforcement and places it in the then spot.   He then knows what he is working for.  The assigned tasks (1,2,3) are placed in the squares before the then that represent what needs to be completed.  Tasks can be puzzles, matching games, worksheets, and file folder games.   As he completes each task it is placed in a done box.  He is then allowed to have the reinforcement he chooses.  Reinforcement does not always have to be food.  It may be earning minutes to play legos, computer time or using a vacuum.

Making these materials can be very time intensive. Fortunately there are some sites that have downloadable materials available.  I’ve been setting up materials so parent volunteers can help with the cutting and pasting. At the end are the sites I have been using to make file folders and schedules.  Of course Boardmaker is a really handy program to have as a ready source of pictures.

http://filefolderfun.com/        file folder games ready for printing

http://www.tinsnips.org/Pages/makeandtake.html      schedules and examples on how to make them work

http://www.boardmakershare.com      A site that has Now and Then boards ready for printing and file folder games

If you have any  suggestions, or ideas, that have worked for you ,please respond by making a comment.  I always enjoy hearing what others are doing in similar circumstances.

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