How to help special needs children- loving them is the key!

Today I’m so excited to introduce to you a new-found friend at Wealthy Affiliate who works with special needs children for a long time and is so passionate about it.

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. It’s kind of a tongue-twister, you know! )

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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.

She was very nice to reply and said yes! 

 So here goes her story on how to help special needs children, which basically starts with loving all kinds of kids.

BTW, she is also the founder of Your Aromatherapy Store, so please check her out on her website youraromatherapystore.com.

Being a Special Educational Assistant is a calling.

How many years have you been a Special Needs Educational Assistant ( SNEA )? Please elaborate on what 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 handling?

“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 take an active role in talking to the parents about this or any concern at all?

” 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 like to do some mindful meditation or yoga, to de-stress as well. “

There’s a point in our career that we realize we have made a difference in someone’s life, in your case a special child’s life. Please share with our readers.

” 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. “

 

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.

 

Would you like to know Angela better and find out her other passions? Please follow her and visit her website youraromatherapystore.com.

 

Is your child with special needs bonding really well with her Special Needs Educational Assistant? Share your story with us.

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School is almost here! Are you done buying and preparing the school essentials for your special child? Click here to read the checklist and learn some tips on what to buy.

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Toys special needs children will love…. recommended by experts

Like normal kids, our children with special needs love to have fun.

Hearing their giggles and laughter uplifts us- parents, caregivers, and even their teachers.

Playing, aside from giving them fun, promotes the enhancement of social skills and development of their imagination and creativity, as well as improvement of their fine and gross motor skills.

More so, learning the basic concepts like colors, shapes and numbers would be benefits from the right toys.


Choosing the best toys special needs children will love and recommended by therapists, should be top in our minds-parents, caregivers, and teachers, when we plan to buy them for our kids.

Toys that promote learning

I recently read a post from a behavior analyst who said that her daily life consists of treating children with autism spectrum disorders and when she gets home, she implements similar practices with her own children. She uses the same toys for the same reasons.

She believes that all kids want to have fun while they are learning.

Thus, parents need to find developmentally appropriate toys for their kids, whether special or not, to create opportunities for learning while playing.

For our special kids though, because they have delayed mental development, we have to choose toys which are recommended below their chronological age.

We have to consider their mental development. For example, a 10-year-old child with Down syndrome with a mental age of 4-5 years, would enjoy playing a toy for a 5-year old, because a toy for a 10-year-old might be too advanced for him. Toys about numbers for a 5-year old would be identification only of the numbers, or simple counting, but toys for a 10-year-old would be involved with addition, subtraction, or easy multiplication and division.

Here are some toys that experts suggest

1.Melissa & Doug K’s Kids Match and Build Soft BLOCKS SET ( click the image to see the price )

 

Block set develops imagination and motor skills

  • These blocks are washable, soft and lightweight, thus ideal for babies, toddlers and older kids with special needs, for easy manipulation and lifting.
  • Kids will learn to identify numbers, animals, and shapes.
  • Skills that they develop include sensory, fine motor, logical, creative, linguistic, communication, and self-esteem.

 

2. PUZZLES ( click the image to see the price )

 

Big puzzles for easy grip

  • Our special kids need big puzzles which are extra thick and with large knobs for easier grip.
  • These puzzles enhance their imagination and creativity.
  • Because of delayed mental development, our special kids need to play with simple puzzles so their minds can solve easy problems of identifying shapes and images.
  • Playing with puzzles also develop their fine motor skills, socialization and hand-eye coordination.

 

3. SPEAK TO ME ( click the image to see the price )

Magic laptop promotes verbal interaction and reading and imagination.

  • For kids with autism, toys that promote interaction like this laptop, that encourages a verbal reply when they push a button, are suitable.
  • Various categories include letters, numbers, farm animals and musical instruments.
  • The games within also enhances imagination, creativity and develops intelligence.

Toys that calm anxiety and improve behavior

Children with emotional and behavioral disorders like ADHD, need to balance fun and calm their anxiety while playing or just sitting down, maybe in a doctor’s office waiting impatiently for his turn.

Usually, they thrive on holding on to something familiar to them like a favorite toy or a calming thing like a pillow.

 

1. SENSORY RING and FIDGET TOY ( Click the image to see the price )

Sensory rings bring relaxation and calmness

  • These soft, flexible rings and rubber spikes reduce stress and anxiety by providing tactile stimulation to calm a racing mind and to bring restless hands busy with something, while doing writing in school or at home.
  • If your kids have short attention span, these bracelets sensory toys bring focus, attention and relaxation, so they are more attentive in school or even at home while doing homework.

 

2. STRETCHY DINO WRAP ( Click here to see the  price )

  • This wrap gets your special child to pretend to be little T-rex roaming around the house.
  • It is perfect for play, pretend, movement, compression and sensory integration.
  • Adults need to supervise the kid to dress up and tuck their hands into the sewn in pockets to wrap themselves snugly inside the stretchy cape.
  • It helps tactile defensive kids and sensory seekers.
  • Attention is sustained for a longer time because the kids enjoy pretend play a lot.

 

3. SENSATIONAL TEXTURED CIRCLE FIDGETS ( Click here to see the price )

  • They have tactile surfaces on each side for fidgeting and sensory exploration.
  • Kids can trace their fingers over the raised circles on one side and feel the fine bristles on the other side.
  • They could also be put on the floor where kids can tickle their feet with the bumps and the bristles.

Toys that Improve Kids’ Fine and Gross Motor Skills

1. GYMNIC HOP BALL ( click the image to see the price )

Improvement of Motor skills plus fun=Gymnic hop balls

  • These hop balls are made of heavy-duty yet soft vinyl latex-free material for long-lasting use.
  • Inflation by a hand or foot pump needs to be done by grown-ups.
  • They are great for exercise indoors and outdoors on smooth surfaces.
  • Our special kids will develop their body coordination, balance, and lymph circulation .
  • They come with a hand grip safety handle.

 

2. MAGNETIC NUMBER MAZE ( click the image to see the price )

Maze develops fine motor skills and number identification

  • Your special child will enjoy and develop fine motor skills as he guides little red balls with a magnetic pole.
  • It develops small muscles in the child’s hand to be able to hold the pencil properly for better writing skills.
  • This is also a learning tool for numbers  and counting.
  • Hand-eye coordination is also developed as the child guides the balls.

 

3. CRASH PAD ( click the image to see the price )

Crash pad lets kids enjoy jumping and develop gross motor skills

  • It is filled with a long lasting foam with heavy duty stitching, thus a  safe place for special kids to calm down and relax by sitting or lying down.
  • Children will enjoy crashing, jumping, exploring or cuddling, thus developing their gross motor skills and balance.
  • Suitable for kids up to 150 pounds

Parents and caregivers must play with their kids

Your presence in your special child’s activities will help him a lot to improve his social and cognitive skills.

Deep trust in you will be developed as well, as you regularly play with your special child.

Likewise, while playing with him, you are able to observe your child up close on how he interacts and how fast he is learning.

Remember, playing is the best form of bonding for you and your kid.

Playtime with a partner needs to be encouraged

There are various benefits if your special child is allowed to play with you and others.

As much as possible, expose your child to a playmate to promote engagement and interaction.

Various studies recently have shown that interactive experiences actually change the physical structure of the brain.

“We now have evidence from neuro-imaging studies (e.g., MRI, PET, and SPECT scans) that new neuro-pathways are created and connections among neurons are enhanced when the brain is stimulated,” explains Dr. Ron Savage, Executive Vice President of the North American Brain Injury Society and expert on neuro-developmental disabilities.

Based on these studies, special needs products and toys are made to improve motor skills, mobility, sensory processing and communication skills.

These specialized items can help children enhance their basic abilities while also soothing their anxiety and improving behavior.

Playtime provides both fun and opportunity for learning

Play therefore, is the best stimulation for children, especially when children are enjoying their toys and games, and parents and caregivers are devoted to helping them learn.

Studies have proven that loving relationships, meaningful toys, and time engaging in play together are the best ways to open avenues for our special kids to grow up and be the best that they can be.

So my dear parents and caregivers, please choose wisely what toys your child with special needs will enjoy and learn from.

It will be remarkable to witness the joy of your child while playing and in turn, his brain is stimulated to develop with added neurons for more wisdom.

 

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How do you choose toys for your special child? Do you observe that your kid learns while having fun? What is his favorite toy?

 

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