As I have stated in my previous blog entry, I have a great deal of empathy for the parent of a special needs child.Â I know they have their plates full as they raise a child or children who require specialized care.
At the same time, I hold my special needs children to the same standards as I hold anybody else in the gym.Â I expect them to follow the rules and treat others with the same respect they receive.Â I do not allow neither the special needs child nor their parent to use their disability as an excuse for anything.
Â I understand that children who have disordersÂ affecting behavior oftentimes have outbursts or they have difficulty controlling their behaviors.Â Still, I expect them to learn how to socialize appropriately and I expect them to treat me as I would treat them; with respect.
I do no child a favor if I allow them to behave in any manner they desire.Â One of my most important jobs in working with children is to teach them how to interact within a group or an environment with appropriate behavior.Â My special needs children are no different.Â They are normal children who have the added difficulty of learning how to manage their disabilities as well as the standard growing pains we all experience.
In other words, I tell them “No.”Â Â
When I first meet a special needs child and their parent, I talk to the parent alot.Â I try to get to know them, and I try to get an idea of what their goals are for their child.Â During this first meeting, I watch the child’s movement and habits, and I get as much information about the child as I can from the parent.Â This is the time in which I explain my expectations to the parent as well.Â
Children with special needs are very often extremely bright.Â Like I tell my coaches, don’t ever underestimate the intelligence of any child.Â Even those who are diagnosed with mental retardation are often very smart.Â They learn how to jerk Mom’s chain just like any other kid.Â They also learn how to manipulate the people around them to get their way.Â Â That’s why theyÂ have to be held just as accountable for their behaviors as anyone else.
I explain to the parents in the first meeting that I have a very strong will.Â If there is ever a battle of the wills,Â I will be the victor.Â Â Period.Â So, I have to prepare parents for theÂ difficult moments that I know will happen as IÂ establishÂ control in the gym.Â I acknowledge that it may be difficult to watch someone else stand tough with their kiddo, but that I have to help them understand the gym rules to keep them safe.Â
Â Most of the parentsÂ appreciate the fact that I treat their child as I would any other child.Â Most of them are very supportive because they, too, have to set standards and rules for their child.Â So, they understand and appreciate the fact that I will have to take time to establish the rules.Â As long as they know that I am acting on behalf of their child, and teaching them the hard rules of life and social interaction through love, concernÂ and consistency, they are usually very supportive.
There are a few parents, however, who will allow their child to use their disability as an excuse.Â Shoot, sometimes they supply the excuse to the kid before the class even starts as they tell me “She might be cranky today because…” with the kid standing there listening.Â Sometimes, the parent enables their child to develop poor social skills by excusing or overlooking their behaviors without holding the child accountable.
I understand the trap that some parents fall intoÂ because it is a very tough job parenting the child with special needs.Â It’s exhausting.Â It’s frustrating.Â Sometimes the parents are dealing with guilt because their child doesn’t have “normality” or it might be that they just want peace in the household and a little “normality” for their other children at home.Â Sometimes the easiest route is to just let the kidÂ have their way.Â The easiest route, however, is not alwaysÂ the best route in the long run.
..and it isn’t an option for me.Â It’s my job to tell them “no” and to teach them rules for their own safety and that of other children in the gym.Â It is also my job to help them to learn to interact with the world at-large.Â Â The world “out there” is rarely forgiving.
As a parent, it is difficultÂ to step back and allow someone else to discipline yourÂ child.Â It is especially difficult for a parent who is accustomed to protecting a child who is often rejected by the public to sit back and trust that discipline is a necessary part of loving that child.
So, it is important for me to teach them how to live within rules and act in socially acceptable ways so that the larger world will more readily accept them as well.Â The goal is to help them achieve as much “normality” as possible and to live lives as normally as they possibly can.
It is important that I set very simple rules for them to follow, and then stick to my guns.Â Â I don’t wish to load them down with rules but I do expect them to abide by the few rules I give them.
1) Stay with the coach
2) Don’t play on equipment without a coach
3) Treat others the way you wish to be treated.
Those are my rules for all of my students in the gym.Â
IfÂ my special needs studentsÂ break one of those rules, I stand my ground and call them on their behavior the same way I would with any other child.Â I don’t “punish” them, but I doÂ use every trick up my sleeve to avoid difficult confrontations and I try to choose my battles wisely.
Some of the steps I take in discipline are:Â
Â Â Â Â 1. Redirection of behavior.Â I try to bait the kids into activities with excitement, or distract them from misdirected behavior toward the activities I want them to do.Â If a kiddo refuses to do an activity, I will simply state, “This is what we are doing right now. If we finish this, then we can do that, but first we must finish this task.”Â They may balk at my directions, and I repeat, “I’m sorry, I know you want to do that, but right now we are doing THIS.Â We can do THAT AFTER we finish this.”
Â Â Â Â 2. Changing activities that aren’t working.Â With my special needs children, I try to keep calming activities on hand.Â Things that I use for calming include waterplay (pouring water back and forth between cups in a bowl), stringing beads,Â spinning or swingingÂ on a rope or jumping on the trampoline for impact, rolling up in a towel for pressure, letting them run their hands through bowls of uncooked pinto beans, or brushing and patting them for sensory input.Â I try to find a calming activity that the child likes and use it when I see them starting to hit “meltdown”Â BEFORE they actually hit meltdown and BEFORE there is actuallyÂ an issue.
Â Â Â Â 3. Giving choices or allowing them to do an activity that they love to do, even if it’s only for a few minutes.Â IfÂ I watch my kids, they tell me what they want or what they need simply by their choices and behaviors.Â So, allowing them to have some freedom for those things or finding ways to incorporate those activities into their class helps eliminate the problems before problems ever occur.
Â Â Â Â 4. Pointing out the good behaviors and giving attention for those rather than the poor behaviors
Â Â Â Â 5. Using the words, “I need.”Â For example, “I need you to listen to me.Â I need you to look me in the eye.”
Â Â Â Â 6. Attacking the behavior, not the kid..”That is not okay with me.”
Â Â Â Â 7. Reminding the student of what they are supposed to be doing.
Â Â Â Â 8. Waiting them out.Â Many times, my biggest disciplinary hammer isÂ time, itself.Â I simply sit down next to them and remind them that I will wait for them to make the correct decision.Â Eventually, they give in and I get my way.Â I “wait” for them to make the correct choice.Â I have waited for up to an hour and a half for a student to make the correct choice.Â I have alot moreÂ stamina than they do…and I don’t have to go home until 9:30PM.
Â Â Â Â 9. Consistency is key.Â The more consistent I am, the more the child understands what to expect.
Â Â Â 10. I love the child.Â No matter what.Â I love the child.Â I do my best to letÂ them know that IÂ care about them beyond anything else.Â If they know that, they will walk through fire for me.Â