This week, we are featuring a story by Rachelle Marinas, a student in Child Psychology and Child Development who works at a before- and after-school program in San Diego called PrimeTime.
As a Program Specialist at PrimeTime, I enjoy teaching new behaviors. Improving behavior is a chance to show children that growing and learning are parts of life. I imagine inclusion as a process of joining together; children without restrictions are able to join in with others who have restrictions, and vice versa. Children should be invited to participate in any game, activity, or event instead of being excluded. It is my goal to teach any child with whom I work to stop thinking that students with special needs “can’t do that because they…”
Patience plays an important role when including children with special needs in group activities. They might not want to participate at first due to shyness, a lack of social skills, or various other reasons (the list goes on and on), but I believe if you teach them how to engage with others appropriately and guide them with patience and understanding, they will gradually become integral members of a group.
I have a five-year-old student with autism who loves to read and enjoys interacting with other children. However, this student did not start off as social or interactive as he is now. Prior to working with him, I had never really worked with children with the same restrictions, but the experience has been an enjoyable one.
This particular student had trouble interacting with other children because he did not have the skills to communicate appropriately. His method of communication was yelling and throwing tantrums. The way I dealt with this was consistent communication and positive redirection. I applied the mindset I had learned from my classes in child development and psychology: all children need love and care, someone to listen to them, and someone to teach them positive ways of behaving. I would demonstrate an activity with him, and other students would approach him to play and talk with them. I would start off every program saying “Hello, how are you? How was school today?” directly in his eyes. I asked him what he was interested in, what his favorite color was, his favorite place, favorite food, everything about him. I wanted him to know that he was safe and he could be comfortable with me.
So much has changed since the beginning of the school year, and our staff and students are going to continue our positive words and actions towards all students. The experience of knowing you are able to change a child’s life is priceless.
-Written by Rachelle Marinas, edited by KIT staff.
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.