What Methods Do I Use to Teach Those with Special Needs?

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Human brains are extraordinarily complex and as unique as fingerprints and personality.  We are each born with various talents and inclinations that naturally unfold in stages and at different rates, which result in a wide range of proficiencies.  Some children mature more slowly than others; but with time, patience, and encouragement are capable of catching up to their peers.  These students simply need more repetition and reinforcement before they learn material.

Unfortunately, many teachers and parents react negatively whenever a student deviates from an established norm and are unable to conceal their concern.  The child may intuitively sense this and become anxious.  It is not only heartbreaking to see a stressed-out six, seven or eight year old, but anxiety itself can interfere with learning.  An initially minor, manageable developmental difficulty can compound and escalate into a tangled web of academic under-performance and emotional unsteadiness.

When a child is provided some extra help or is taken out of class for remediation, this act in itself can serve to contribute to the child’s sense that “There is something wrong with me!”  As a result, the floundering child loses even more confidence, may become depressed, frustrated, angry, defiant, or lazy; some turn-off completely.  Just as with any adult, children are preeminently concerned about their self-image.  Some subconsciously make the decision that it may be better to be thought of as lazy, rather than stupid.  Although capable, they simply shut down and stop trying.

In these situations, I can be of considerable assistance.  It is most helpful to have an expert look at your child with fresh eyes. 
A One-to-One relationship establishes an indelible personal bond between tutor and child.  In the long run, this is just as valuable as the education itself.

A good tutor is a mentor; a patient, persistent, empathetic, encouraging, adaptive presence with an optimistic attitude.  These are all essential qualities that foster self-esteem in children who have lost confidence in themselves due to repeated failure.

The Resource Room and the Expectancy Effect

Resource Rooms are often a mixed blessing. 
Class size is smaller, the pace slower, and the environment more nurturing; but, teacher expectations may also be lower with unfortunate consequences.  When a teacher expects a child to perform at a lower level, that perception may deleteriously influence the child’s ultimate achievement.  This is known as the Expectancy Effect; a self-fulfilling prophecy that occurs whenever a perceiver's erroneous expectations lead to a confirmation.  A resource room teacher, no matter how competent and well-intentioned, may subconsciously behave quite differently toward their special needs students than they do toward so-called “normal” kids.

The good news is there are both positive and negative “Expectancy Effects”.

The Pygmalion Effect (Rosenthal Effect) refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed upon people, the better they will perform.

Similarly, when individuals believe in themselves and succeed as a result, this is known as the Galatea Effect.

The positive attitude and high expectations of a tutor can have a dramatic impact on the academic performance of any pupil.

ADHD - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Bright children sometimes have problems in school because they have difficulty focusing. 
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a condition being diagnosed more frequently by teachers and pediatricians in recent years. 
Students with ADHD have trouble concentrating on tasks because they are hyperactive and/or impulsive.

Such children thrive on predictability, structure, individualized instruction, an interesting curriculum, and lots of positive reinforcement.  I provide an empathetic, firm hand that does wonders in helping ADHD students stay on track, finish their homework, and confront tests confidently because they are well prepared.

Whenever a child experiences difficulty focusing, many parents ask “Is this just a case of immaturity, a characteristic of a curious young mind, or ADHD?”  After an ADHD diagnosis has been made by a professional, an even more difficult question may then arise:
Should I medicate my child? Is it prudent to meddle with the chemistry of a developing brain when it is not absolutely necessary?”

I believe individualized instruction combined with a behavior modification program should always be attempted before psychotropic medications are considered.

If such methods are employed, but the child continues to fall further behind, medication may be indicated.  If this is the case, do not hesitate to consult your pediatrician, physician, psychiatrist or psychologist to reassess the possibilities.

Many millions of children over several decades have been helped by such medications.  Your child may fit this profile.

Although opting to medicate may initially be a difficult barrier for a parent to cross; remember, that choice is never irrevocable.

After a reasonable period, progress will be reassessed.  If performance has not improved or if some adverse side-effects have arisen, parent and prescriber may need to modify or discontinue this approach.

The Learning Disabled Child

What is a Learning Disability?  The Federal Government defines it in these terms:

 

A learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia and developmental aphasia.

 

After an evaluation is made by a specialist, the first step is to understand the type of learning disability that may be affecting your child.  The most frequently diagnosed types of learning disabilities are categorized as follows:

Dyslexia is a reading and language-based learning disability.  Children with this dyslexia may not understand letters, groups of letters, sentences or paragraphs. In first grade, it is not unusual for children to occasionally reverse and rotate the letters they read and write.  As they mature, these problems naturally resolve themselves.  However, if the difficulty continues, the child may be diagnosed with dyslexia. To a dyslexic, a "b" may look like a "d."  He may write “on” when he really means “no” or reverse a 6 to make 9. This is not a vision problem; rather it is a problem with how the brain interprets the information the eyes see.

Dysgraphia is a term for problems with writing. An older child may not form letters correctly, and there is difficulty writing within a certain space. Writing neatly takes time and effort; yet despite the extra effort, handwriting still may illegible. Frequently, a student with dysgraphia cannot finish written tests or complete assignments on time.

Dyscalculia is a term for problems concerning math.  Math is challenging for many students, but with dyscalculia, a child may have much more difficulty than others his age. Dyscalculia may prevent your child from solving basic math problems that others his age complete with little difficulty.

Information-processing disorders are learning disorders related to a person's ability to use the information that they take in through their senses - seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching. These problems are not related to an inability to see or hear. Instead, the conditions affect the way the brain recognizes, responds to, retrieves, and stores sensory information.

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