When I tell someone I teach special education, the first thing they usually say is, “wow, you must have a lot of patience.” I do have patience, but I don’t think an abundance of patience is always what works. It’s so much more than that.
In my 11 years of experience working with children with special educational needs (SEN), I have been able to appreciate the creator for the gift of love for all his creatures. I have been privileged to work with children and young adults living with autism, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, learning difficulty and other developmental disabilities. These categories of persons who are differently abled are full of potentials embedded in them and it takes only acceptance and encouragement to help them maximize their potentials.
I am lucky to have a great team at Centre for Children with Special Needs (CCSN) in Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja where I gladly pour my heart and soul as well as my own time and money every day of the year. There is something truly special in waking up each day looking forward to adding value children at the Centre. I am usually excited to see the eyes of my student light up when they make a connection between what I’m teaching and what they are doing. Watching a child read with fluency after struggling for years knowing that my instruction made the difference gives me joy and happiness as this is what the society calls impossible.
It can be amazing to see a student write his name for the first time independently at the age of 14 or watching the same student understanding mathematics or even making connections with real life. Helping students make friendships and lifelong social skills can be most fulfilling for me. The above rewards makes life worth the while for persons with disability and they can be very pleased with the show of ordinary love and acceptance than just teaching them. Society must remember that children are children first and they deserve to belong to their neighborhood community and people in the community should see them more as individuals than just stereotypes.
I feel that I have been an integral part of the lives of my students and their families. I have deep connections to how well they do in life through tailored education and helping them learn at their own pace. Hearing “Thank you” from a parent for helping their child achieve something great is the best reward a special needs teacher can receive. When I see or hear a parent get excited about their child’s growth, I immediately realize that I must be doing something right. Therein lies my joy as a special education teacher. One of my students named Faiza, is diagnosed with cerebral palsy. This condition has kept her in a wheelchair; it also affects her speech. Anyone who has met Faiza knows that she may have a physical disability, but her intelligence is much greater than most. If you can’t remember something, anything, Faiza will help you out. She’s a treasure chest of information.
Faiza has the ability to solve mathematical problems with a very high processing speed, despite her inaudible speech and spasm; she can read a comprehension passage and answer questions from the passage. She demonstrates understanding for vocabularies and says the meaning when asked to a level of 90% accuracy. She can recite long and short poems as well as give detailed information about the three tiers of government and their functions i.e. Executive, Legislators and Judiciary just to mention a few.
Faiza does not feel limited by her wheel-chair. Rather she exhibits a high sense of self- esteem and aspires to become a historian! Working with Faiza gives me the confidence that just anybody, neurotypical or living with neuro disorder can be of immense support to the growth and development of society.
I vividly remember our recent visit to a shopping Mall. I noticed that mant people at the mall started staring at her and giving looks of pity. I just felt like walking over to each of them and scream “Stop staring at my student! There is nothing wrong with her! I’m pretty sure she’s smarter than you!.
While teaching special education, the emotional attachment is amazingly strong, because you get multiple years with the same children and you don’t want to give up for any reason whatsoever. I really want to change the world with one special needs student sometime soon. I still teach life skills class to students with a wide range of disabilities and my students spend plenty time learning functional academics, functional communication, social skills and independent living skills.
Let me just end by saying: “The society should know that all children are children first and deserve to belong to their neighborhood community and we should prohibit discrimination. What is not acceptable for non-disabled children should not be acceptable for children with disabilities.”
Characteristics of Learners with Special Learning Needs
- Students with learning problems tend to be passive learners.
- Because of their history of difficulty in learning they tend to attribute their successes and failures to external uncontrollable forces.
- They have little motivation to be active participants in learning because their past experiences have reinforced their feelings of anxiety and low self-worth.
- Quite often, children with learning problems also have attention problems. They may indeed attend, but they attend to the irrelevant details for instance concentrating on the colors of the shapes or the thickness of the lines instead of the differences in lines, angles or formation.
- Difficulty with memory is another common characteristic of students with learning problems. “Here today, gone tomorrow” seems to be the motto that they operate under.
- Language problems can also interface with the learning of many students with learning problems. Language is used to mediate our world-to help us organize, categorize, reflect on and respond to the input we receive. in particular, vocabulary is often a barrier to students with learning problems.
- Metacognltion has to do with students’ ability to monitor their learning. It involves problem solving. Students who are not metacognitively adept have great difficulty with it. In fact, many learners with learning problems in mathematics for example do not realize that others who are successful in mathematics employ strategies to tackle the mathematics tasks.
- Learners who have experienced significant learning difficulties over a period of several years may have low motivation and reduced confidence as learners and have feelings of frustration and disappointment. Sometimes such feelings are expressed in anger and some challenging behaviors.