For this assignment, I was required to plan and implement two developmentally appropriate activities for children with additional needs. I have also included a detailed definition of special needs and a history of special needs provision in Ireland. I finished the assignment off with a critical evaluation, an analysis of my own personal learning and a conclusion with recommendations.
A Definition of Special Needs and Special Needs Education
Children with special needs have all the needs of regular children, such as safety and security love, praise and encouragement along with some additional needs. These special needs can be caused by various conditions which can be physical, intellectual or emotional. Some examples of special needs conditions are; physical disability such as epilepsy, asthma, cystic fibrosis, hearing or visual impairment, mild to severe general learning disability, specific learning disability such as dyscalculia, ADHD, Down’s syndrome, autism spectrum disorders and emotional disturbance.
Immigrant children whose first language is not English may also be regarded as having special needs.
According to CitizensInformation.ie1, special needs education refers to the special educational arrangements which are in place for children with special needs. These special educational provisions are provided to any child if their ability to participate in and benefit from education is restricted due to an ongoing physical, intellectual, sensory, and emotional or learning disability.
A Brief History of Special Needs Provision in Ireland
The Irish Department of Education was established in 1924. For much of its history the department considered that the education of children with special needs alongside their non-disabled peers was not appropriate as their needs were considered medical and not educational.
In the 1980’s there was a worldwide push for the integration of disabled children into mainstream schools. Soon after classes for children with special needs began to be established and more teachers were educated to cater for this demand.
By 1993 over 2 thousand children were being educated in such classes
In 1993, the report of the Special Education Review Committee (SERC)2 made the following recommendations
• Establishment of a continuum of educational provisions to meet special education needs, that would allow
• Full- Time placement in a mainstream class with additional support
• Part-Time or Full-time Placement in a special class or school
• Full-time placement in a residential special school
• Part-Time placement in a Child Education and Development Centre(CEDC) or special school
In 1995, a government white paper on education called “Charting our Education Future” Stated the following, “all students regardless of their personal circumstances have a right of access to and participation in the education system according to their potential and ability” and “to promote quality and equality for all, including those who are disadvantaged through economic, social physical and mental factors in the development of their full educational potential”3.
Several acts of parliament resulted in legislation which further added to the rights of special needs children in Ireland, including: The Equal Status Act 2000, The Children’s Act 2001, The Equality Act 2004 and The Disability Act 2005.
The EPSEN Act 2004 is the legislation which provides for the provision of education plans for students with special educational needs (SEN). Under the Act, children with SEN will be educated “in an inclusive environment with children who do not have SEN”, unless this should be inconsistent either with the best interest of the child, or with the effective provision for the other children.
This provides the statutory requirements for educational planning as they impact upon students, parents, schools, and the National Council for Special Education (the Council)
Under the EPSEN Act 2004, all children with SEN should be provided with an IEP, and this individualized program should be delivered in an ‘inclusive environment’ with students who do not have SEN whenever possible.
The EPSEN Act takes us up to the present day and ensures that the needs of special needs children are comprehensively provided for in the educational environment.
Two activities planned and implemented
The first activity I planned was a game which can be described as Silent Ball, it is intended to aid focus, hand-eye coordination, relaxation and be fun. It would be ideal for younger children or children with ADHD.
First the children and SNA’s organise into a circle so that everyone can see each other and make strong eye contact.
The person who is currently holding the ball looks for someone in the circle who is making good eye contact and gently throws them the ball, the person who catches the ball then continues the game by doing the same, looking for someone who is making good eye contact and gently throwing them the ball. The goal is to complete at least 10 repetitions without dropping the ball while ensuring that everyone in the circle gets an adequate number of goes.
It should be emphasised that the ball should be tossed gently for health and safety reasons, especially to younger children and children with sub-optimal motor skills.
This activity should also be done in silence or near silence, so that the focus is on eye contact and giving undivided attention to the person with whom you are interacting. The silence also makes the game more relaxing.
The game can be made easier by everybody taking one step forward so that
There is less distance for the ball to travel, making it easier to catch or the game can be made more difficult by taking a step backwards leaving the ball with farther to travel.
The game can also be made more difficult by the introduction of a second ball, the first ball could be tossed around by the children while the second ball tossed by the adults, this would require a greater level of focus and concentration while also creating a need for a higher level of timing as there are two balls moving around at the same time.
This game also improves the hand-eye coordination of the children playing
The second activity planned and implemented was a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) activity with an Easter theme.
The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a system which is used to assist children with special needs who are non-verbal or have inadequate speech. PECS uses picture cards for communication; children with speech disorders use the cards to express basic wants and needs. This reduces the child’s frustration. Many parents and special education specialists make their own PECS cards tailored to the needs of the child in their care or a special occasion. For this assignment, I chose to plan an activity using Easter PECS cards.
In this activity/game, the child can participate in a particular Easter activity only after handing over they PECS card related to that activity. Once understood and repeated, this builds a foundation for communication. Over time, the child can learn to use the PECS cards to form sentences. This activity/game, when executed correctly, could enable the development of verbal communication.
A shoe box decorated with an Easter theme was used to store the picture cards. Images, such as the ones above, were printed from the internet and cut out and stuck to the cardboard. The cards were then labeled. The cards were separated into categories such as food/drink and activities so that the child could more easily access them.
To illustrate the point!!
The activity began by working with cards that corresponded to items the child could request, such as a chocolate egg or chocolate bunny. The child was also free to use the cards to request an activity such as painting an Easter egg or going on an Easter egg hunt. The desired item or a picture of the desired activity were placed where the child can see it, but not reach it.
If the child wanted an item or activity, they must find the card in the PECS box and hand it over. After the child had successfully completed the task, the request could be affirmed by handing over the item on the card or participating in the activity on the card.
As the children become more adept with the system, they are provided with additional cards, along with a binder or box in which to store them. They can also be provided with cards with words like “I want” and “and” on them to encourage the children to form sentences.
Critical Evaluation and Analysis of Learning Outcomes
Coming up with original ideas for the activities in this assignment was difficult, a series of internet searches revealed that there is very little new under the sun. The internet provided a wealth of ideas and for my activities I chose two variations of themes that I found on the internet.
I had been introduced to the PECS system while studying the special needs theory in class, but it was only while putting this assignment and activities together that the full scope of the usefulness of the PECS system became clear.
One criticism that I would have of the PECS activity is that it may cause limiting behavior as the childs ability to communicate improves, such as in a social situations, the child could become dependent on the cards to express what they want or feel. Another criticism regards the potential for the PECS cards to be lost or damaged, this could lead to frustration and angry outbursts.
Another observation regarding the PECS system/activity is that it also requires a lot of time, commitment and repetition to ensure the progress of the child. As PECS is a nonverbal form of communication, it must be continuously reinforced by saying the various words out loud.
PECS also requires access to a computer and a printer because some pictures need to be made which are unique to each person. It is also necessary to laminate the pictures and cards to ensure a reasonable degree of longevity.
I learned during the planning and research phase of this assignment that the activity silent ball has several benefits as a physical exercise, a monotony breaker and a stress reducer which also helps to improve social skills, hand-eye coordination and group cohesion.
Implications of working in a multi-disciplinary team
There are many things to be aware of while working in a multi-disciplinary team. In order for a team of diverse people to work smoothly and effectively, all members must have a clearly defined role and understand their own tasks and responsibilities within that role and the team.
It should be understood who has overall responsibility and who makes the decisions. As an SNA in a multi-disciplinary team including teachers, SEN teachers and a principle, the SNA should at all times take guidance from the class teacher or SEN teacher but the principal has final say regarding the children or what happens in his or her school.
Team members should learn to respect and value each other’s contributions, be aware of how the group communicates and be aware of making judgements and holding prejudices.
Egos and personal feelings should be left at the door during meetings and discussions. Ideally, any action to be taken should be the shared vision of all the team members.
In my opinion, parents should be considered a part of the multi-disciplinary team because a whole team of people is discussing the welfare of their child. It is appropriate to allow them some input and the value of listening to them should not be underestimated.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Children with special needs can benefit from the activities I described in this assignment in many ways. The physical activity in the Silent ball game aids improvements in muscle strength, coordination, balance, motor skills and body awareness. This activity also helps to improve social skills and group bonding in a relaxing and fun way. It may also help to improve focus and attention in kids with Autism or ADHD by burning off some of the excess energy.
I would recommend activities like silent ball be incorporated into every special needs child’s daily routine, where appropriate.
I would also recommend PECS as another very beneficial activity which should be utilized whenever it is appropriate as it has many benefits, such as increasing verbal and spontaneous communication and improving social interactions generally.
With regard to working in a multi-disciplinary team, I would recommend regular staff training to ensure that everyone is fully aware of their role and tasks within that team or on any assignment.