Working with Special Needs Children

by Mary Ann on July 26, 2011

little girl playing in mud pictures

Maggie experiencing the joy of being a child like any other child!

Every now and then someone will ask me how you can use the Closet with a special needs child. I answer, “The same as with any child”. The five rules apply to everyone and help build good relationships no mater what handicaps we each may have.

The materials for projects that we find in the Closet can benefit every child if we take into consideration their age and abilities and then make the appropriate adjustments.

I am no expert on special needs but I have had my share of opportunities to work with children with special needs and my experience with Maggie last week when we had grandma school, Kids learn about Dogs, put me in a mind to address this issue as best I can.

little girl playing in water

Playing in the gutter is a rite of passage that every child wants to have

I admit it can be tough working with special needs kids because of issues that they rarely can control. Here is a video of Maggie playing in water. It is a great example of how her mom finds ways to include her in activities that the other children can do and to include her so she is as independent as possible.

Tips for working with special needs children

  • Special needs kids generally do better with one on one help and that is really true in Maggie’s case. So when you are alone trying to work with 2, 3 or more children it is tough. Get an older child to help you. Invite a neighbor or do what I do, the best that you can!
  • Special needs children have limited abilities and can’t always do the project in the same way as other children. You have to adjust to their abilities rather than deciding they just can’t do it.
  • Working with a special needs child can be frustrating because they may have less impulse control, limited speech, underdeveloped motor skills, a limited attention span, blindness, paralysis and any number of other issues. You are the adult, they are the child. Help them in whatever way you can. Every child wants to learn and can learn. Help them to do what they can do. If it gets too hard take a break, give a hug and return to the project when you can. Never give up!
  • It can wear you out to do what is required to work with a special needs child. But then that can be true with fractious 2 year olds, independent 6 year olds and slightly sullen 12 year olds.
  • It takes more time to help a special needs child do a project. Mentally prepare for that and don’t let it be a problem for you. It isn’t a problem for them.
little kid with cerebral palsy writing

All children can and want to learn. Help them reach their full capability.

Let me share some of what I experienced with Maggie last week. Maggie has severe cerebral palsy. It has affected all four limbs but not her mind. So her desire to do what everyone else does is great. She derives immense pleasure from doing things even when she needs a lot of help.

Maggie made her own cookie dog. I helped Jack make his dog first. Maggie kept letting me know she wanted to do it too and I assured her that she was next. I couldn’t help them both at the same time. While Jack began eating his dog I helped Maggie. She can grasp and object but has trouble marinating her hold. So I helped her get a hold of the decorating bag and then I held her hand and the bag. She cannot squeeze so I would say squeeze and then I would squeeze her hand.

little girl decorating cookies pictures

Maggie is not bothered by the amount of help she needs

Maggie is just beginning to use her forefinger and thumb to grasp things. Fine motor skills are a challenge for Maggie. I would hold the item she needed, would prompt her to use her thumb and forefinger and then would assist her to take hold. Then I would guide her hand to where ever the item needed to be stuck and then remind her to let go.

She was also able to make most of her rolling dog. I had to manage the legs and spools but I had to do that for Jack also because he is only three. Maggie was very proud of both the cookie dog and her rolling toy. She took especial delight in her ability to bat it from the back all by herself and then watch it roll.

We have a friend with a daughter who has CP and is blind. How would I work with that child? I would tell her what we were making. I would talk a lot telling her everything I was doing as I made the project. I would stroke her cheek and touch her hand with the materials as I explained them to her. When we were done I would let her handle the finished project even if her hands would ruin it. My goal would be to give her as many sensory opportunities as possible to experience the process of creation.

little girl drawing pictures

Every little effort is a huge success for Maggie and she is happy about it

I have another friend who is a quadriplegic. He can’t do anything for himself. What then? He enjoys watching and listening. Whatever is being shared becomes his project also if the person doing the creating shares everything with him, telling him what they are doing, why, how and letting him feel some of the materials with his cheek.

The point I am trying to make to day is that despite whatever handicaps we each may have every human being desires to learn, to experience, to create in some way. When we accept that every human child is valuable no mater what abilities they have or don’t have then we will be able to help them because our desire will be to help them. They will stop being a problem we have but become instead someone we want to bless and who then will bless us. Anyway that is what it has been for me.

kid eating cookies pictures

There is immense joy in just trying

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Shiniga July 28, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Hi Mary Ann,
This is such a lovely post which touched my heart. Working with special needs children is tough indeed. But as you said if we can help them sincerely, the smile it would bring on their face itself would be a blessing in our lives. After I read this post and got to know about the three children you mentioned, I first took a look at my hand and fingers, that works so fine and let me type so swiftly even now. I never thanked God for this wonderful gift, when these little ones do for every small gift God bestowed on them. I did that yesterday, I thanked God for every thing he gave me. You are so wonderful Mary Ann, helping them out and I know they are just wonderful kids to be with. I pray for them and you.


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