As a trainee teacher or NQT, you will be aware there is very little training out there to prepare you for the challenges you face in the classroom. I suggest you read around these five main areas of special challenges that you are likely to find in your classroom:
1. Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC)
The first thing to remember is that no two children with special needs are alike. They may share the same label or diagnosis but they may present themselves and behave very differently in the classroom. For example, Autism, including Asperger’s syndrome is a huge spectrum and you may find that you have children displaying all manner of signs and symptoms. Some will have communication difficulties, some will have acute social anxiety and some may have behaviour challenges. These children can be anywhere on that spectrum from mild to severe.
2. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Similarly, children diagnosed with ADHD will display different signs and symptoms. Not every child will display all the signs all of the time. The main challenges seen include difficulty waiting their turn, wanting everything their own way, no sense of danger, emotionally incontinent, impulsive and restless and a lack of focus.
There are many children diagnosed with Dyslexia within our mainstream classes and it is important to understand how to teach children with this diagnosis. Be aware that some children are wrongly diagnosed with Dyslexia as it is actually a language based disorder rather than a visual difficulty. Once you are clear on that fact you will see that signs and symptoms include delayed speech development, difficulty expressing themselves writing, difficulty sequencing instructions and difficulty with organizational skills.
4. Learning Difficulties and Disabilities (LDD)
Learning Difficulties and Disabilities is an umbrella term for any learning or emotional problem that affects a child’s ability to learn in the same way and at a similar rate to their peers. Some common types of LDD include Dyscalculia, Dysphasia, Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy and delayed development. Of course, it is possible that that ADHD and ASC may co-occur under this heading. Some children will be mildly affected and others will need much support. The terms Moderate Learning Disability (MLD), Severe Learning Disability (SLD) and Profound and Multiple Learning Disability (PMLD) are also used interchangeably with LDD although all these conditions are very different.
5. Behaviour challenges
That brings us to behaviour challenges. Children who display severe challenging behaviours in mainstream classrooms will generally have an underlying cause for this. All children will try to push the boundaries at some point but these are children who regularly disrupt lessons and may be violent. Try to remember that all behaviour is a form of communication. What is the child trying to tell you? If you can work that out you will be able to help the child.
Inclusion is the main aim for all of these children. As a teacher, it is your job to work out how to include these children in all lessons and activities. My advice is to ignore the label and to look at the child in front of you. Think about how you can help them. Remember, every teacher is a teacher of special needs and you must not hand them over to a Teaching Assistant.
My top tips would be to make it visual. Many children with SEND are visual learners often due to lack of verbal communication. Provide visual instructions and give plenty of time for the child to process what they have been asked to do. Think about communication methods. Give the child a way to let you know if they don’t understand as this will make many behaviour problems magically disappear. Create a SEND friendly classroom. This might include plain walls, fewer bright colours, less clutter, easy access, calm environment and a place to go to if feeling stressed. Remember that a classroom fit for a child with SEND is a classroom that is good for all children.
Above all else have fun! These children will stretch and challenge you but they will also bring you great rewards when they master something you never thought they would. Cherish those wow moments and learn from every single child.
Cherryl Drabble is an assistant headteacher at an outstanding school in Blackpool, and has 14 years' experience in teaching children with special educational needs. An ITT and NQT mentor, she has an MA in Inclusion/SEN and nine years' experience as a Senior Leader responsible for CPD. Cherryl is a successful blogger, and is the author of Bloomsbury CPD Library: Supporting Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (Bloomsbury Education). Follow her on Twitter @cherrylkd
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It’s one of a series of blogs to help make your introduction to teacher training a little easier. Get up-to-speed with some of the topics you’re likely to encounter in your training:
Five ways to ensure a successful ITT year