Special needs is a broad term for a wide set of diagnoses—some of which resolve early while some become a challenge for life. Children with special needs may have developmental delays, medical conditions, or psychiatric conditions. These needs require support, guidance, and treatment early on so children can reach their full potential later in life.
For guidance, teachers play a vital role in children’s lives. Special needs are usually defined by what a child cannot do. Various experiences and activities are denied for special needs children, so if you get an opportunity to work with special needs children, you may face some distinctive and unique challenges. These students require more patience and time, and they also need specialized instructional strategies in a structured form that supports and strengthen their learning potential.
Kindergarten is the beginning of formal education for children, and it is a memorable time for students and their families. The transition from Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE)—a federally mandated program for children between ages three and five—to kindergarten can be joyful. At the same time, it can be overwhelming for special needs children with disabilities—which is why teachers and educators need to make it as smooth and seamless as possible.
Before we dive into different ways teachers can achieve this, let’s take a quick look at special education teachers and their role in the education sector.
Requirements to become a special education teacher
In all states, special education requires a teacher to be licensed to teach at a public school, and a special education degree is a requirement for most jobs. For licensure, the degree must include a teacher preparation program approved and accredited by the state you’re in.
Online and traditional bachelor’s degree programs in special education require assessment, coursework in methods, assistive technology, special education law, foundations of education, and curriculum and planning based on special needs.
It depends on the school requirements as some schools need a bachelor’s degree for special needs teachers while others also require a masters’ degree. Teachers who are certified and want to work at an advanced level may apply for Masters of Arts MAT in Special Education online. This degree empowers teachers with skills helpful in serving children with special needs at a holistic level. MAT in Special Education focuses on five areas:
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Cognitive Impairment
- Physical and Other Health Impairment
- Emotional Impairment
- Learning Disabilities
Efforts of teachers to make special children’s transition to kindergarten seamless
Teachers with a special education degree and a license to teach in schools make great efforts to ensure that special-needs children have an easy and natural transition from ECSE to kindergarten.
Here are some strategies teachers can use to ease the anxiety and stress of children and facilitate a smooth transition.
1. Use building blocks of development
Every child needs basic nourishment, good sleep, proper exercise, and affection. Without this solid base, they can’t grow, develop and learn. Development and growth are essential for children to reach their full potential. The building blocks of development help a child develop emotional, social, cognitive, and motivational skills, and teachers need to focus on areas in which the child may be facing challenges.
These blocks build on one another. As a special needs child develops differently than a typical child, these milestones are divided into smaller components and taught over time. Each child with special needs follows a different and unique path. As a teacher, it is your job to support children’s learning and development in the following areas.
The ability of a child to name, recognize and control their emotions is known as self-regulation. Children who possess these skills have an easier time interacting and playing. Some of the qualities include:
- Paying attention
- Following directions
- Comforting self
- Handling frustrations well
- Negotiating with mates
- Controlling impulses
- Participating in circle time
- Playing cooperatively
3. Motor-skills and self-care
The physical actions and movements daily refer to motor skills and self-care. These include fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and coordination. Fine motor skills are efficient hand movements like tying shoelaces or writing words. Gross motor skills involve hopping, running, or jumping, whereas, ability to use sensory systems and one set of muscles refers to coordination.
For a child with special needs, a teacher must simplify these tasks.
4. Social expression
Social expression is related to interactions, reactions, and the skills required to understand other people’s feelings, thoughts, and ideas. The social expression also includes creating attachments and lasting relations with others. This includes,
- Expressing needs and wants
- Showing curiosity and eagerness to learn
- Engaging in pretend play
- Expressing empathy
- Relating well with adults
5. Kindergarten academics
Children must acquire new knowledge and skills, and it is your job to encourage them to learn the primary curriculum for academic and personal development. Some of these skills are:
- Identifying colors, shapes, rhyming words, and letters.
- Counting objects
- Engaging with books, words and numbers
- Identifying and writing their names
6. Use of social stories
Social stories are tools of social learning that assist the meaningful and safe exchange between professionals, parents, and people who deal with special needs. Authors create social stories for high-functioning students with autism, but the stories are also used for students with other disabilities.
The purpose of social stories is to share information using speech, content such as simple stories, and formats such as text and illustrations. These must be descriptive, meaningful, and easier to practice in terms of emotional, social, and physical aspects.
Teachers must engage students in speaking up and writing descriptive sentences from social stories to describe situations—for example, (Tomorrow is my last day, next year I will be in another class with a new set of rules and knowledge).
Directive sentences are used to understand and follow instructions—for instance, “I will work hard on learning new information and rules.”
Affirmative sentences help children affirm and positively deal with a situation rather than negate it. (I will make my teacher proud when I follow the rules) and perspective sentences help children share their perspectives and emotions (I will be nervous and afraid in my new class next year).
Teachers must help children visit their classrooms before the transition to kindergarten. You can help them get familiar with their surroundings and help them adjust to the new environment.
Observing scenarios before becoming a part of them boosts children’s confidence as they can familiarize themselves with the environment and prepare for the transition.
Additionally, kindergarten special education teachers and teaching staff can also learn by observing the students from their ECSC classrooms to see their behavior and communication skills—or how they engage with other teachers and classmates and exhibit empathy or participate in group activities.
This helps in deciding:
- What materials, activities, or expectations must be adapted or changed for students once they enter kindergarten
- What functional skills should the teachers work on with students to promote confidence and independence
- What new visuals and languages can teachers introduce to students for their learning
Special needs children are different from other children, and it can be challenging for both families and teachers.
That’s’ where special education teachers come in. These professionals have specialized degrees that help them learn the skills required to handle children with special needs and assist their education and development in their early years.
Teachers must also ensure that transition from ECSE to kindergarten is effortless, achieved through various ways. Teachers help children learn building blocks of development which teach them self-care, motor skills, social expression, and children. They also teach students how to use social stories to speak, write and express themselves.