Special needs teachers do more than just teach

teacherPETALING JAYA: Mrs Brian’s (not her real name) job is particularly challenging and hectic, and requires copious amounts of patience and innovation.

However the effort is all worth it, she says, when the special needs children with whom she works are able to understand what she teaches them.

Speaking to FMT, Mrs Brian, who is a special needs teacher at a private school, talked about the unique set of challenges teachers who interact with these children are faced with on a daily basis in the classroom.

“We must understand what their needs and limitations are, and from there, we work to bring out the best in them.

“They have their own limitations, so we need to work within these to bring out their potential.”

She said such teachers needed to be patient and understanding, and realise that teaching is not confined to the classroom alone.

“There are no rules that say a lesson should only take place in a classroom.

“For example, if a particular student enjoys the garden, we can have our ‘classroom’ outdoors,” she said, adding that she would also keep the class environment simple to prevent autistic students or students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) from becoming too distracted.

For her, the sense of satisfaction from realising that her students understand her, is priceless, she said.

“Even when they give you a simple nod to tell you they understand what they have learned, it is enough to brighten up our day.”

Number of students are increasing but support is lacking

The issue of special needs children came under the spotlight this week after a 19-year-old with ADHD sued his school and the government after claims that they had failed to provide him with a quality special needs education.

The boy, who also suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, further alleged that the school had failed to protect him from being bullied by other students.

“The school does not have the facilities and system to categorise disabled students based on their learning disabilities,” he said in his statement of claim, adding that autistic students were generally labelled as those with learning difficulties, without a focus on their needs.

Mrs Brian, too, acknowledged the lack of experienced teachers who could handle special needs children, and lamented how many were often not properly trained in this field.

“Students with special needs are increasing, but the support for them is lacking,” she said.

Don’t lose faith in them

Occupational therapist Fany Yim agreed that teachers must possess a high level of patience and understanding when dealing with students with disorders.

“They are different from normal children. For example, when they are crying, as a teacher, one needs to use a fair degree of creativity to stop them from crying.

“Teachers must guide them with some creativity and make them understand that it is okay to feel sad,” she told FMT.

She said as an educator, she strives to help special needs children become independent in life.

“They are the future generation, and we should not let them be dependent on other people throughout their lives,” Yim said.

She conceded it was not easy dealing with special needs children, but that teachers should not lose faith in them either.

Likewise, parents should not hesitate to seek professional help if their children required it.

“It is not taboo,” she said.

Diagnose early, don’t prolong the situation

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Lai Fong Hwa said ADHD symptoms become obvious in children around the age of seven.

“ADHD children have traits of inattention, cannot sit still and are impulsive.

“It is good to get diagnosed early and seek treatment rather than prolong their situation,” he said.

He also said those with ADHD had a slightly different mindset from normal children.

“Their thinking is similar to ours, but ADHD children do not consider long-term effects.

“When they want something, they demand it immediately,” he said.

Dr Lai said he recommended that ADHD patients, who displayed severe symptoms be prescribed with medication.

“Medications actually ‘protect’ the child in the sense that they will become able to control themselves,” he said, adding that if they were not medicated, patients with severe ADHD might take things into their own hands and turn to substance abuse in order to calm their emotions.