I found a new-found friend at Wealthy Affiliate who works with special needs children for a long time and is so passionate about it. She was very nice to accept my offer of this interview on how to help special needs children.
Her name is Angela but the kids usually call her Mrs N ( N being the first letter of her last name, which the kids apparently have a hard time saying. It’s kind of a tongue-twister, you know! )
How did I find her ?
The Wealthy Affiliate community has this “helping each other succeed” attitude and one day, she posted a comment in one of my blogs where she said she is a Special Needs Educational Assistant, so I emailed and asked her if she wanted to share her experiences in her job.
Here goes her story….
How long you been a Special Needs Educational Assistant ( SNEA )? What do you do?
“I have spent the last 19 years working as a SNEA in specialized diagnostic classrooms located in a rehabilitation hospital. This hospital has a contract with the local school board to provide educational services to the students while they are in program in the hospital.
The program I work with uses a team approach to assess the children. Our team consists of a teacher, an assistant ( me ), a nurse, physiotherapist, physiotherapist assistant, speech and language pathologist, speech and language assistant, a pediatrician, and a neurologist.
The classroom I work in services children in grades 1-3. The students who attend our classroom have been referred by physicians. They come as day patients for six weeks. Some reasons for referral can include: learning difficulties, social issues, speech and language concerns, neurological queries, physical issues and medication trials. Numerous testing and evaluations are completed during their stay.
After six weeks with us, the students may return to their previous schools or another more appropriate classroom in the community that better suits their needs.”
What groups of special kids are you involved with?
“The groups of students that I work with changes five times throughout the school year. Every group is unique. Some are quite easy to work with and some are quite challenging depending on their needs.”
What motivated you to become a Special Needs Educational Assistant?
” Many years ago, I was employed in a group home that was providing service to some children from out of province.
During that time, it was decided that these children needed to be in school. The school board created a classroom to support their needs.
The classroom needed an assistant and since I knew the children well, I decided to apply for the job. When these particular children left the province and returned to their homes, I continued my employment with the school board and began working in the diagnostic program in the rehabilitation hospital.
That was almost 20 years ago now. Time sure flies! “
How do you work with the Special Education teacher on a typical day?
” Every morning I greet the children and parents from their buses. If medications are needed, we stop to see the nurse before heading outside for some fresh air before school begins. At the end of recess, we go to our classroom and begin the day.
I lead circle time, using the smartboard, while the Special Education teacher works with the children one on one to assess their reading skills.
( During the six week stay, the students are taken out of the classroom regularly for assessments and tests by our team members. )
When it is time for recess, I take the children out to the public playground ( on the hospital premises ).
I also spend lunch time with them. At times, some of our students have eating issues that need to be monitored and any problems reported to the healthcare professionals on our team.
Much of my day is spent assisting the teacher and professionals that work in our classroom. My duties can change depending on what the children need.
At the end of the day, I make sure the students meet up with their parents or get on their proper buses to go home.”
Do you have any struggles or big challenges on being a Special Needs Educational Assistant?
” The only challenge or struggle that I can think of is building a relationship with children in a six week time frame. It often feels like I am just getting to really know them and then it is time for them to leave our program. There is nothing I can do about this, as it is just the nature of the way things work in our classroom.
Other than that, I don’t have any BIG challenges or struggles. I am so blessed to work with a team of people who are always there and ready to lend a hand when needed.”
How do you handle a very difficult child?
” Sometimes, I find I need to change my expectations. If a child is unable to sit still, be quiet, finish work, walk in line down the hallway, etc., it’s okay.
Some children are just not capable of doing these things. They don’t mean to be disobedient and they are not always intentionally trying to disobey the rules.
I try to show them understanding and love.
There have been times that I cannot change my expectations for safety reasons.
The student must listen and obey.
For example, if at the end of recess and a student refuses to leave the playground with the group, I will kindly explain to them the reasons why they can’t stay on their own and if need be, they will be helped back to the classroom.
I do this in a patient way and they will usually comply.
In our classroom, we have a time out chair. When we are introducing the children to the classroom, we NEVER present it to them as such.
We call it a Calming Chair and we invite them to use it on their own whenever they are feeling upset or just need a break.
When it is positively presented this way, instead of in a negative way, I find many children will just go there on their own before any escalation begins.
It’s so neat to see kids make use of this Calming Chair on their own.”
How are the parents involved in the progress of their kids? Do you actively communicate with the parents about any concern of their child?
” There are numerous meetings with parents throughout the six week term.
There is an intake meeting with the team prior to program starting.
There are two meetings at the end of the term where the team meets with parents and then with the parents and the school to present the findings of all the diagnostic testing and assessments.
During the term, the team and parents communicate via a book that is sent back and forth between home and school.
If the parents would like, they are also invited to do an observation visit. This means they are welcome to watch the program through a one way mirror and if they have questions during observation, they have access to a medical professional whom they can ask.
I am not involved in the meeting per se. I will often communicate with parents in an informal manner at bus times. If important questions or concerns arise, I will pass them on to the appropriate person on the team.”
How do you feel at the end of a school day?
“ There are days that I go home mentally exhausted and some days I am just fine. It all depends on the particular group of kids that we have in the program at that time. “
What makes you happy or fulfilled on a certain day?
“ Just being around kids makes me happy.
My job is generally fulfilling, in that, it is great to see kids getting the help they need.
When they leave our program, they usually leave with their school or parents having a better understanding about how to help them.
Perhaps they will leave with a diagnosis that will provide them with extra resources that might make life easier, maybe a medication to make them feel better.
Honestly, most days are quite fulfilling and I love that part of my job. “
Any advise/s on those who want to pursue a career as a Special Needs Educational Assistant?
“ You have to love kids, all kinds of kids to do this job.
To be honest, you need to be okey with a little excitement, too.
There are days when the children are in bad mood, they might try to hit, kick, punch, etc. You need to be aware of your personal space and know who and what to watch for.
I learned the hard way many years ago.
I was trying to help a child who was very upset. I ended up with two black eyes, I should have not been in the child’s space.
I could have helped him from a little further back and not had the injury.
That only happened once, that is all it took, I learned about personal space and body positioning, ha ha!
Despite the potential for things to go bad, and they do, there are many, many moments that make all so worth it.
I guess, I am saying if a person wants to pursue this kind of career, it is best that they have tough skin, so to speak. “
How do you de-stress after a difficult day?
“ There are usually a few minutes of time left at work after the students leave, if there has been some difficulty, we usually de-brief as a team to discuss it. I find this helpful.
When I get home, I do some mindful meditation or yoga, to de-stress as well. “
Do you think you have made a difference in a special child’s life?
” I have been fortunate enough to be involved in the process of changing many children’s lives. It might be a diagnosis, a medication, or strategies.
Most children we see in our program leave with some help that will benefit them for a lifetime. I love this part of the job.
Sometimes, the kids come back and visit us years later. It is so rewarding to see the progress they have made and to know that we were a little part of it. “
What is the best lesson that you have learned from a special child/ren?
” I have met many children during my career, it is hard to pinpoint just one child and one lesson that I learned.
I have learned much in the last two decades.
I suppose the biggest and most important thing I have learned from children is this, “ It is possible to be happy and enjoy life, despite all obstacles. “
I have seen so many kids with so much going against them and somehow they still go on and make the best of it. “
Helping special needs children starts with loving them
Working with kids has been bringing joy and still is to Angela, our dear Special Needs Educational Assistant. She has started her career with the greatest lesson in life, “Love the kids, all kinds of kids.”
And then every working day is a miracle unfold.
Thanks so much Ms N for sharing your experiences. You are an inspiration to others who would like to embark on the same career as yours.
The special kids whom you have handled and their families are so lucky to have you.
Originally Published: August 24,2018 Updated: May 16, 2020
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