By Duma Edward-Dibiana
As parents of children with special needs, it’s important that we appreciate the onerous responsibility God has placed in our hands, in order to better understand our roles as parents, especially in their educational development. First, it’s important we truly come to terms with the peculiar challenges of our loved ones and accept the fact that they may not necessarily be able to learn at the same pace as their mates in school, so we should always make deliberate efforts to assist them in getting the best from their schools.
We need to be their eyes, mouth and ears in both social settings and school environment, pending when they are able to stand up for themselves. Every child has innate abilities embedded in them and children with special needs are not left out. Let us as parents of these rare gems, make conscious efforts to accept our children wholeheartedly. If we don’t accept them, the people around them won’t; the society at large won’t; and the discrimination they face will not abate.
Education at home and social settings
We need to identify our child/children’s strengths and weaknesses and harp on them to develop strategies on how to bring the best out of them. We should always bear in mind that if a child can take one,two or three steps instructions, then that child is teachable.
(Paying attention to details about your child in order to help improve on their positives and work on their weaknesses)
We need to always pay rapt attention to the cognitive development of our children. Regardless of what anybody tells you about your child…how dull or unteachable that child is, keep pushing you will be amazed at the end result. whether the child is progressing or not, keep teaching because when you stop feeding the brain with information, there will be nothing to process or act on. As long as you are intervening in the right way, the child is learning whether significantly or otherwise.
It is often said that no two children with special needs have identical conditions. It might be similar but never the same. They all have unique and peculiar needs which is why it is emphasized that educators tailor each child’s educational needs to meet that individual child’s needs.
When it comes to the education of our children, it is paramount we:
CARRY OUT A PROPER ASSESSMENT: It is proper to assess a child to know their academic capabilities and areas of need to know the best intervention to put in place. Assessment gives you an insight on the next action to be taken. It helps you know the goals to set for the child and ways to achieve those goals. For instance, assuming your child is able to count numbers 1-10 but is unable to spell one to ten, then your next goal will or should be for that child to independently spell from one to ten and so forth.
HAVE CONSTANT CONVERSATIONS WITH THE CLASS TEACHER: Having an honest discussion with the class teacher/school helps to clear whatever doubt they might have and gives you the opportunity to make necessary requests when the need arises. Be clear about your child’s condition and what comes with it. Be open, don’t hide anything about your child’s disability. This helps to set the appropriate intervention measures in place. If your child occasionally has seizures, open up so that they will be prepared for any eventuality. If your child is not potty/toilet trained, speak up about it, as nobody will sue you. That’s part of making the school environment friendly and conducive for them and that would go a long way in helping their development.
(Helping to make school environment less hostile for the children)
STREAMLINE THE SUBJECTS YOUR CHILD COULD COPE WITH: Dearest parents, we need to tell ourselves the truth. Not every child with special needs can cope with the numerous subjects they are faced with in class. We can narrow their subjects and reduce their workload to avoid cognitive overload. Just imagine heaping 20 bags of rice on a taxi. Will the car move? Even if it does, it will go at snail speed and before you know it, the tyre might burst and other mechanical issues developed. This is what most of our children experience and we most times treat such nonchalantly. Or blame the confusion or the inability to cope on the school or ‘lazy’ teachers. It’s important we moderate our expectations from our children by putting into cognizance their learning challenges by helping them to lessen their workload. Let’s make learning fun for our children by not expecting them to study/learn at the speed of their peers! They will get there but at their own pace.
(Moderating our expectations in partnership with educators)
SET REALISTIC GOALS FOR YOUR CHILD: At the beginning of each term, consider working with your child’s/wards class teacher to set goals for your child. Run through the scheme of work.If they are to cover ten topics for the term, for instance, you can pick 3 to 4 topics from the streamlined subjects and goals will be set for the child on each subject.
MODIFY THE LESSONS: Ensure that lessons are broken down to your child’s level with his/her goals in mind and their examination differentiated.(they should be assessed based on what was taught). Let the teachers know that they need to plan lessons in a way that meets the learning needs of various learners in their class. For instance, if the topic for Mathematics is Addition and subtraction of 2-3 digit numbers and your child cannot cope with that, his/her work should be reduced to addition and subtraction of 1 digit to 1 digit numbers and with time the child will proceed to the next level.
BE AVAILABLE DURING SCHOOL OPEN DAYS/MEETINGS: This affords you the opportunity to ask questions and evaluate the progress or otherwise of your child and know when adjustments should be made.
DEPLOY ALTERNATIVE METHODS OF ASSESSING THEM DURING EXAMINATION: As I mentioned earlier, ensure that their questions during examinations are differentiated. Let them know that because of your child’s peculiar challenge, it’s okay for your child to verbally, through gestures or sketch give answers during examination. So long as the correct answers are provided, marks should be awarded accordingly regardless of the method of assessment.
ENSURE THAT HOMEWORK/PROJECTS ARE TURNED IN WHEN DUE: It’s quite unfortunate that some parents of children with special needs don’t even have time to go through their school work. Some of them are not aware of homeworks/projects given to their children. Let’s have a rethink and do the needful. When you are involved in your child’s overall wellbeing,it gives them a sense of belonging and acceptance and spurs them to work harder.
Finally, the home makes a big impact on the child just like the school and parents are the life wire of the home.It is often said that behind every progress made by a special needs child, or milestones attained, there is always a parent doing the needful. When it comes to the overall development of our children, we must always make informed decisions. Not decisions based on mere sentiments, biased perception or fallacy.
Also, as parents, in all our engagements with our children’s educators or their institutions of learning, we should always endeavour to be polite in order to win the trust of these people I will like to refer to as partners in progress. Let’s always remember that respect is reciprocal. The way we treat or address others, is also the way they will most likely treat or respond to us. No matter your concern or possible provocation, do not use uncouth language or raise your voice. Have behind your mind that the main objective is to get the best for your child and not to win an argument. So, it’s important we apply emotional intelligence in all our dealings in the quest of the best for our children in their educational developments.
Thank you for making out time to attend this program and I hope we all benefited from it.
Enjoy the rest of your week and please do stay safe! We live in challenging times.
(• Being a paper presented in Abuja on Saturday, July 30, at The Engraced Ones’ Monthly Prayer Meeting Conversation Series.)
• Mrs Duma Edward-Dibiana is a special educator, advocate for wellbeing of special needs children and also, Co- Founder and Director, Ugochukwu Edward-Dibiana Down Syndrome Foundation (UEDSF). She could be reached via: [email protected], 08039122251