Any special education program is a cluster of resources that is dedicated to supporting the educational needs of students with one or more disability areas. The purpose of an Early Intervention Program is to contribute towards the improvement of cognitive, linguistic, social, and emotional outcomes of young children and lead to integration with the focus on successful inclusion into society.
The special education department at various educational institutes is generally conceptualized with a very small number of students. It is initially observed that a few students exhibit some peculiar behavior in classroom situations; these are mostly noticed to be outside the usual childhood behavioral patterns seen in other children of the same age group.
Principal Mrs. Poonam Chaubey interacts with students.
For example, Akash* was a child in Kindergarten who refused to sit on his chair, he walked on his toes and insisted on only doing coloring activities. He also made it a point to run out of the classroom when any group activities like rhymes and dances took place. Meanwhile, Sana* a slightly older Grade 2 student looked completely blank when she was asked questions related to any subject besides Mathematics.
Observation of these children and constant feedback from their educators makes an institution reach a conclusion that additional support is need to be sought out in order to facilitate learning outside the children’s inherent interests i.e. ensuring that these children like Akash* & Sana* are able to attain a regular schooling experience. Hence the decision to bring in counselors & therapists is taken.
Getting people on board generally seems like the easier thing to do, however like all new systems, teething problems do crop up now & then. Getting specific help does wonders for the children but it may also isolate them from the mainstream school and its social interactions. Hence detailed planning is required to design a program where children with special needs could be integrated and included within the mainstream schooling system with regular but non-intrusive support from therapists & counselors.
Although most educational institutes manage to comfortably seat the children (who tend to gradually growing in number) within the social platform of a regular class, there seems to be a lack of connect to what is happening in the class in terms of the subject being taught, the children with special needs may be unable to comprehend and deliver the necessary output as the generic curriculum being followed is usually designed to cater to regular learners. Again help from special educators and discussions with senior teachers from the arena , leads to the development of the Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) where custom curriculum is designed to cater to the specific needs of each differently abled child.
The formation of IEP’s also helps the caregivers identify the parameters which are specific to the educational needs of a particular child. For example, Akshay* was noted to enjoy coloring activities the most and exhibited a more calmer behavior when he was allowed to do his favourite activity- first thing in the morning. Learning began to happen successfully when topics were taught through instructional needs of the learner e.g. coloring or any such activities.
It was also discovered that identifying special needs in very young children could help the institution in providing the right direction in education at the right time and facilitate learning and education to the best of each child’s abilities.
An uphill task noted has always been to bring together the various adults who exist within a special needs child’s environment. Parents, therapists, caregivers and the school all need to be on the same platform in order to make the program a success for the specific child. It is observed that a lot of times parents are completely unaware that their child may be exhibiting a sign of learning difficulty and is not just another naughty child!
Our institute happens to be situated in an area where a large number of parents are not highly educated and maybe the first generation sending their kids out to attend school. Besides overcoming the communication problem, the school also had to undertake the task of ensuring that such cases were handled sensitively and with utmost clarity since most parents would also need assistance in educating themselves with the situation at hand.
As one can imagine, in our situation and maybe in many others as well, convincing the parents is and remains a huge concern. Making parents understand that a school is not trying to single out their child or imposing a ‘stigma’ and is instead working towards bringing a change that would at the end benefit the child.
Crossing the hurdle of convincing the parents to allow the school to extend additional services poses the problem of creating a team of the right minded and competent people who would join the GVS team and deliver the vision and mission of the school. A team of rehab professionals such as Speech and Language therapist, Occupational therapist, Special educator, Child psychologist and Vocational instructor are required to be engaged who would help tailor and also deliver the IEP’s.
While institutes may cross the bridge of talking to parents of children with special needs, the daunting task of ensuring that other mainstream parents are also supportive towards the school emerges. While we are sure most people would agree that small children are the most receptive and open towards people with special needs, it is the adults in the environment who need sensitizing towards this concept of inclusive education. While we have largely been supported by the parent fraternity, it is no real surprise that there have been cases where parents of mainstream children have expressed displeasure in having a special needs child in their own child’s classroom. Although most parents do come around with time, there have been cases where parents have chosen not to join an organisation because of its inclusive education ethos. We can only hope that these parents gradually learn to be sensitive themselves and also extend that feeling in their children who will go on to being the future of the nation.
A project aimed at developing life skills in these children and integrating them within society by means of employment and to make them economically independent, can also lead to the formulation of a Pre-vocational Training Program. At the elementary level, most schools can provide skill based training to its differently abled students. This is done to initiate a beginning towards ensuring greater employability for them at later stages of life.
Pre-vocational courses help the students identify their interests at an early stage and will help to identify whether they are capable to pursue them further when they get out of the school.
Trained vocational instructors were recruited for the purpose who works in coordination with the Special Educators to ensure that the child is working on the right course and successful learning is occurring.
In addition, a fifth area, sports, has clearly emerged as a common area of strength for differently abled children.
Today, most educational institutions realize that developing an educational program catering to the needs of differently abled children is more heart and instinct than science and structure. First, the educational institution needs to make the choice of whether or not it wishes to exist in the special education space. Once the choice is made, the entire team of educators and administrators need to commit to the cause and continually work on tailoring the curriculum, their instruction and most importantly themselves to facilitate a wholesome learning experience to all children equally. In our experience, more often than not it is the keen eye and personal resolve of an educator which not only helps identify but also bridge the learning gaps of a differently abled child. What is thus important is a passion for the cause. A cause which has been ignored far too long by far too many a capable academician.
As much as we may like to believe that we have attained perfection in running and future planning for this department, it would be most apt to clarify that the process is extremely dynamic in nature and thereby cannot be defined by specific industry norms. For example, a child under study at the moment Aryan* is a pre-schooler who isn’t settling in his class and prefers to roam around outside, happy to hang onto the hand of a nanny and not interact with other children his age. However, when observed outside of the school environment, he seems like a normal child, running around and interacting with his parents and sibling in the most normal manner. The process will now involve modifying his environment and surroundings to better understand Aryan’s learning needs. The school and its team of educators and administrators will need to adopt a patient and meticulous approach, as is the case with every child with special needs. There is little merit in seeking instant gratification or short term results but over the long term if the intent and heart of a special education program is in the right place - your students will make you proud!
* names have been changed.
About the author
Mrs. Poonam Chaubey Principal of Greater Valley School, Greater Noida is a passionate teacher and a capable administrator with more than 25 years of experience. She has authored and published several activity series for children. Mrs. Chaubey is appointed as a senior resource person for Expressions India, an empanelled CBSE agency for life skills training to other teachers and school members. The All India Council of Human Rights for Liberties and Social Justice has awarded her the “Manav Adhikar Samman” for her exemplary contribution towards the field of Inclusive education for children with Special needs.