Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Three Cheers for Inclusion

“Step,” a new documentary that won accolades at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and opened earlier this month in theaters across the nation tells the inspiring story of an inner city high school’s girls Step team that overcomes significant obstacles to win their state’s step dance championship. The skills they learn through their team membership help to prepare them for their school’s ultimate goal: To ensure that every member of the team is accepted to college. The film got us thinking: What’s available to girls (and boys) with disabilities in the realm of competitive dance and cheerleading? As it turns out, there’s a lot out there!

In fact, about a week ago, U.S.A. Today reported on a special needs cheerleading squad in Salisbury, Maryland that’s become one of the state’s most successful teams. The “Shooting Stars” is made up of athletes with disabilities ages 7-53. And its team leaders say, all it takes to join the team “is a positive attitude.”

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Six Tips for Recess Success

Ask many kids “What’s your favorite subject?” and they’ll say, “recess.” But for students with special needs, recess can be the most challenging time of day. Recess is hard for some children because they have trouble managing unstructured time. For others, delayed social skills can lead to exclusion or even bullying. Children with physical disabilities may be left out because playground facilities aren’t fully accessible, while those with sensitive nervous systems may be disturbed by loud playground voices and chaotic surroundings.

But there are steps schools can take to prevent bullying and make recess a happy, healthy and socially successful time of day for everyone. We’ve gathered some suggestions and information about what some schools are doing to address this back to school issue.

1. Help students plan for transition
Students with developmental disabilities and autism spectrum disorders often have difficulty moving from one activity to the next. Preparation and roleplaying may help. “Various studies suggest that rehearsing hypothetical situations beforehand reduces anxiety and helps special needs kids cope more effectively,” say the folks at Try talking about recess beforehand or even creating a social story to help your child anticipate the transition. Teachers can help by reviewing the day’s schedule and providing special cues for children who need them.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Six Ways to Create a Welcoming Classroom

If you’re a teacher, chances are you’re already preparing to begin a brand-new school year. Perhaps you’ve been setting up your classroom, ordering supplies, and planning lessons and activities. Most likely you’re doing your best to anticipate the learning, social and emotional needs of your students. After all, the nonprofit Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) reports that “social and emotional learning [SEL] teaches children to recognize and understand their emotions, feel empathy, make decisions, and build and maintain relationships.” In fact, a 2011 meta-analysis showed that “incorporating these programs into classrooms and schools improves learning outcomes and reduces anxiety and behavioral problems among students.” A recent update to the study reinforced the findings of the 2011 study. But just hoping for a socially and emotionally positive classroom environment isn’t enough. Strategies and know-how are essential to making your classroom a place where all children, regardless of special needs, are able to thrive academically, socially and emotionally. Here are some tips to give you a head start.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

How the Arts Build Skills and Bring Joy

As the summer vacation season comes to an end, many parents have begun making plans for their children’s fall schedules. If your child has special needs, his schedule may be full of therapy appointments, doctor’s visits and tutoring sessions. Though it may be challenging to find time for other extracurricular activities, making space for the creative arts is well worth it. Participation in arts programming can increase children’s self-esteem, improve cognitive, motor and social skills and provides a sense of community that is sometimes hard to find in mainstream school settings. Fortunately, more and more arts education programs across the country are offering classes for children with special needs.

In today’s post, Enabling Devices looks at the benefits of creative arts experiences for children with special needs.

Theater for children with autism spectrum disorders
In recent years, educators and parents across the country have come to recognize that participation in the theater arts are extremely beneficial to children on the autism spectrum.
In a 2016 study, Vanderbilt University professor Blythe Corbett demonstrated how children enrolled in her 10-session, 40-hour program, SENSE Theater were less anxious, more likely to recognize faces, and more capable of understanding different points of view. According to an article by Laura McKenna in The Atlantic, “kids who completed the program had brain-frequency levels that were more similar to children without autism.”

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

August Vacationing Tips

Is it August already? Where have the summer months gone? If you’re a parent of school-age children, or a teacher, August means the start of back-to-school shopping, lesson planning, carpool scheduling, doctor’s visits, haircuts and more. But not so fast— there’s still time for some late summer fun. It’s just a question of planning. For parents of children with disabilities, arranging a last-minute excursion or vacation requires a little extra planning. Here are some tips to make end-of-the season travel more manageable: 

Before setting off, do your best to provide your child with as much information as possible about your family’s travel itinerary. Some children, especially those with autism, sensory sensitivities or anxiety disorders, have difficulty coping with changes to their routines and anticipating the unknown. Social stories about travel or vacationing are a great way to lessen their anxiety. If there isn’t time to design your own story-book, look for one on the web. Here’s one created by Pam Drennen, V.P. Director of Clinical Services Speech at Kidmunicate in preparation for a trip to the beach. You can also try “photo albums, schedules and maps to help our children understand where [they]are going and whom [they] will see,” says Karen Wang, an author at the Friendship Circle. “Any type of visual support will reduce anxiety and increase interest,” says Wang.