Working with Children with Disability: Everything You Need to Knowby Sabrina Sutton
Working with children with special needs is an incredibly rewarding career with multiple career pathways available to those who are qualified. Below is everything you need to know about working with children with disabilities and how to start a career in disability support services within early childhood education.
Firstly, it’s important to understand what we mean when we refer to children with ‘disabilities’ or ‘special needs.’
A disability, according to the Australian Network on Disability, is “any condition that restricts a person’s mental, sensory or mobility functions.” People can be born with a disability or acquire one through an accident, disease, or genetics. It’s also important to remember that disabilities can range from being permanent to temporary as well as visible to invisible.
When working with children with disabilities, it’s most common for the child to have been born with the condition or for it to have developed in their early years of life (0 – 4 years old). With just under 10% of Australian children between the ages of 5 – 14 living with a disability, we must have individuals willing to learn how to best help them develop to the best of their ability.
The Essential 5: Tips on Helping Children with Special Needs
If you’re already in the child care and education industry or you’re looking into entering this field, you will undoubtedly encounter a student with learning difficulties. This not only applies to schools, but also sports teams and organisations, after-school activity centres and most establishments that cater to young people.
How you treat these individuals and allow them to become involved is critical to developing a healthy outlook and culture around disabilities in Australia. It’s essential for support staff to understand the basics when dealing with children with disabilities, whether their difficulties be learning, physical or behavioural. Below is a list of 5 essential tips you should follow when helping children with special needs.
When you’re introduced to a child with a disability for the first time it’s very important you find out what it is that may impair them. Do they have ADHD? Are they on the autism spectrum disorder? Is it a physical impairment? Do they have less developed social skills? Are they mute? It can be difficult to identify the impairment, particularly in young children. All of this information will help you first interact with the child and understand why they may (or may not) react in specific ways.
2. Consistently Interact
Don’t be intimated or hesitant to interact! Sometimes it takes a few tries and methods to find the right one that appropriately engages the child but its imperative that you persist! Remember to introduce yourself, try and make eye contact as much as possible and explain the activity clearly.
It’s important to take notice of what works and what may not when it comes to each child with special needs. What elicits a reaction? Is it positive or negative? What form of stimulus captures their attention? Aural, physical or visual?
4. Be Patient
Sometimes it’s frustrating, and often it can feel as if any progression you do make is very quickly lost. Don’t be disheartened by this! Developmental delays are common, and it’s important to continue with the methods you’ve found to work, communicate with the parents if possible and most importantly allow the child to build their trust in you.
Whether it’s talking to the child themselves, their parents or other figures of authority in the child’s life – open communication is essential. Particularly if the child is mute or has a behavioural or learning disability, it can be challenging to receive any feedback from them. Try and speak to the individual child’s parents or teachers to gauge some form of feedback as well as to share any headway you may have made.
Courses for inclusive education
If you can see this as a full-time career, but you’re unsure where to start an Education course is a great option! There are numerous pathways you can take, depending on time constraints or prior education qualifications. A Certificate III in Education support is a great way to start your education career and will allow you to enter the field as a teacher’s aide, education assistant or a support worker for children with disability. You can then choose to progress into an undergraduate degree with inclusive education teaching aspects included in the curriculum!
If you’d like to become a fully qualified special needs teacher, you will need to complete some outstanding qualifications, including a Bachelor of Education. You can then progress into a postgraduate study of Special Needs Education.
A lot of these courses are now offered online, meaning more time for yourself and your busy life. However, bear in mind that if you choose an online provider, the practical component of many of these courses will need to be independently sourced. Of course, both in-class and blended options are available too!
Special Needs Teachers are always in demand in the education industry. Whether it be in primary school, secondary school or special-needs support centres, there are always kids who have higher educational needs than others and may need individually tailored education programs to help them thrive.
This rewarding career path has many professional development opportunities and the study options available allow you to choose which direction you’d like to pursue and tailor your learning accordingly.
Are you up for the challenge?
Although it is a challenging career, the reward far exceeds the difficulties. Whether you are thinking of changing careers or are re-entering the workforce, working with children with additional needs is a meaningful career. You can start today with an education course; or, if you’re looking to change directions in your current job a course in disability or child care could be the right choice for you!
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