Onboard the Spectrum Train
Each child with special needs is unique. Meet six-year old Lucas. He is on the autism spectrum. He does not speak, but through his actions and body cues, he communicates what he finds stressful and provocative, and what is comforting and soothing.
Come on this journey inside Lucas’ mind and learn some strategies that can support kids like him, especially in this season of fighting the COVID-19 virus.
"I don't like change!
Help me adjust slowly."
Lucas finds security in routines. He loves to do things in a particular way, and at his own pace. Adults may not necessarily see a pattern, but to Lucas, something as simple as drinking from the same coloured cup, or doing puzzles first before playing with the toy robot, gives him a sense of order and safety. When daily routines are disrupted, or new ones are introduced, Lucas feels distressed. He needs time and gentle coaching to get used to something new.
"Confined spaces are hard for us.
Give us safe spaces to play in."
Being confined at home more in this COVID-19 pandemic may be extra challenging for children with special needs. Whenever possible, create opportunities for them to move their bodies in a safe space.
Physical movement is vital for the development of all young children. By moving their bodies, children refine their gross motor skills and sense of coordination. Their fast growing brains are also developing important connections when they navigate their bodies through space.
Jumping, hopping, skipping, crawling, dancing, rolling on the ground and tossing a ball back and forth are excellent and simple activities that you can try with your child.
"Teach me how to let you know how I feel."
Some children on the spectrum may be nonverbal. This means they do not use words. But they are communicating in other ways, through their expressions and body cues. Because every child is different, they enjoy different things, and are distressed by different things. One of the best ways to support the child is to establish ways he or she can communicate happiness, anger or sadness. For example, the child could learn to give a high-five when happy, or be taught to tug gently at the adult’s arm when he or she needs help.
"There's too much going on here.
Let's leave before I get overwhelmed."
The brains of children with special needs process sensory input very differently. What is soft background noise to you and I may be very loud and jarring to the child. Another difference could be the sensation of touch. A child who is tactile seeking may constantly reach out to touch someone in what might seem excessive, but the child is fulfilling his need for sensory stimulation.The key is to observe the child’s behaviours and body cues closely, and remove him or her from the environment before the child reaches an unbearable level of distress.
"I can learn new things.
Show me what to do in a concrete way."
Changes to routines are often difficult for the child with special needs. For example, the need to wash hands, wear masks and observe social distancing will be hard to understand. Lucas needs patient modelling from adults, in a concrete way, to be able to adopt new behaviours.
Because the minds of children with special needs work differently, one may feel a little disoriented initially when relating to them. It's like the first few hours of arriving at an unknown destination. You may feel unsure about how to find your way. But by paying attention to the surroundings and seeking help from others who know the way, it is possible to get to know a new city.
In the next lesson, we will travel to Sensory Land and learn about the unique sensory needs that kids like Lucas may have. We will also explore what adults can do to support Lucas to meet his sensory needs.