Hi fellow Qkids Teachers! Teacher Natalie here. I have been teaching with Qkids from the comfort of my home in New York for only a little over eight weeks now. Prior to exclusively teaching with Qkids, I worked as a Behavioral Therapist for kiddos with Autism Spectrum Disorder as well as a Preschool Teacher. I have my Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis, which is a scientific study of behavior, revolving around learning and behavior. I have always loved working with children with language barriers, speech and language delays, special needs, and those with behavioral and/or emotional concerns. I sure do miss working with these populations, but working with QKids has fostered my love for a new population of kiddos— those who speak/are learning English as a second language.
It finally happened. It finally happened that I didn’t realize that I had a student with special needs in my classroom until the 25th minute of the lesson. Having worked with children with special needs for the past 6 years of my life as a therapist and having my Masters in Applied Behavior Analysis, I have always found myself to have a sort of “sixth sense” when it comes to teaching learners with special needs. What’s even more mind-blowing is that this child appeared to have Down Syndrome, which is one of the disorders that you can notice on a physical level and it totally went over my head. I didn’t notice her disability at all. It is a common belief that individuals with Down Syndrome have both developmental and intellectual delays. I noticed no intellectual delays whatsoever. To be quite frank, this student’s intellect and participation were on the same level, if not past that of the other students who appeared to be neurotypical. This caused me to realize that I have yet ANOTHER reason to love working for Qkids.
With this experience I realized that Qkids is the ultimate inclusive classroom! You just never know what special needs you may encounter within your online classroom and I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty awesome. We encounter children with varying levels of abilities with no prior IEPs or Behavior Plans to adhere to, like teachers in your typical classrooms. Coming from a field where I worked as a therapist solely with children with special needs, specifically Autism Spectrum Disorder, there is always a struggle to get my students into a “regular” classroom or one that’s inclusive. Our Qkiddos, fortunately, do not face that struggle and exclusion. We just accept them, love, and teach them as they enter our classrooms.
An inclusive classroom is one in which learners with special needs are given the opportunity to learn alongside other learners who are neurotypical (general education students without special needs diagnoses). I personally believe that students with special needs should be given the right to learn alongside their peers unless there are major behavioral issues (physical aggression towards themselves or others). That’s exactly what Qkids supports— these students learning alongside one another, not based on a diagnosis, but instead their well-deserved level of learning. Why limit a student who is capable of achieving Level 4 learning to a Level 1 class just because of a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, Intellectual Disability, and so forth? Qkids provides the least restrictive environment for kiddos with special needs and it’s such a beautiful thing.
Since we don’t know beforehand if we’ll have students with special needs in our class, how do we approach it when it does happen? TREAT THEM LIKE YOUR OTHER STUDENTS! I’ve encountered about seven students during my time with Qkids who seemed to be on the spectrum or had a speech/language impediment. As I said before, having an educational background in both Applied Behavior Analysis and Speech-Language Pathology, I’ve developed a sort of “sixth sense” when it comes to kiddos with special needs. I obviously can’t just look at a child and diagnose them, because well, that’s unethical and just not right. However, upon interacting with a child and noticing specific characteristics, I can usually gather that they may have special needs. Whether it be through the hand flapping or stimming (repetitive motions), random outbursts, or other stereotypies (which is characteristic of autism), delayed ability to repeat after me, or stuttering, it’s usually apparent that they have special needs. However, these are NOT reasons to automatically start “babying” them or giving out answers, because you think they’re incapable of answering because of their apparent special needs. Now, if the student appears to be having increased difficulty as is becoming stressed out, make the necessary accommodations. Instead of just correcting students immediately, use the prompt hierarchy. When it comes to speech, we definitely want to shape up those words to ensure that their English is unflawed, but when it comes to having them follow directions, using this hierarchy for all of your students is helpful. We don’t want students to become dependent on us for answers. We don’t want our students to become familiar with us just giving them the right answer and then moving on. In my own teaching, I’ll usually observe to see if the student is steering in the direction of getting the answer incorrect and I’ll provide what we call errorless teaching in the field of ABA. I help the student get to the correct answer before the incorrect answer is verbalized. This can be accomplished via prompting.
Prompt prompt prompt. We want our Qkiddos to feel as supported as possible. Sure we might not see them again for a while or we might not ever see them again, but we’re still coming into contact with them for approximately 30 minutes and every minute counts. Make every minute meaningful and pleasant. It’s still a student that you’re educating and trust me, your interactions with them make a difference. Provide those gestural prompts, verbal prompts, and visual prompts. Model. Show them what you’re expecting.
Noncompliance Within The Qkids Classroom Sometimes misbehavior isn’t always misbehavior. Sometimes that one kiddo isn’t just trying to push your buttons. Sometimes it’s not because they don’t want to listen or that they are taking their “sweet time.” Many individuals with special needs, namely autism tend to have issues and/or delays with processing pieces of information. So when you’re saying “click the card that says morning” and showing them your mouse, it may take them longer than your other students. They may take longer to see the card, process what it says, and then hover the mouse over the card. They’re not giving you a hard time. They’re having a hard time themselves. It’s probably a challenge to follow instructions in “real life” so can you imagine trying to follow our virtual directions? Nevertheless, these students still persevere through our 30-minute lessons with up to three other students whose households may be extremely loud with familial chatter or other sounds that make processing even harder!
We’re teaching English. It’s what we do. We say sounds the right way and then prompt our learners to do the same. Prompt all of your kiddos the same way, but if they show signs of distress after truly trying, don’t push it. Some of these children have real speech delays, whether they’re diagnosed or not. Don’t make them feel less than. Keep smiling. Don’t let your smile fade when they keep saying “bipem” instead of “kitchen.” They know that it’s ‘kitchen’ and chances are if you have them write the word, they’ll be able to (this is usually Apraxia of Speech). They know, but simply cannot express it correctly, because of the disorder. I did have a student who said “chicken” instead of “kitchen” the other day, but that was because she was so excited, she said “kitchen, kitchen, kitchen, chicken!” making it more of a tongue twister situation.
It may be hard to discern between a speech and/or language delay and ESL barrier, due to the fact that well, we’re teaching learners whose first language is Chinese. Are they deleting the final consonants in words because of their first language or is it because of a delay or disorders? It’s important to look at the issues in not only their English speaking but also their Chinese speaking ability. Typically, a child with a true disorder of speech will present the issue in both languages. Sometimes (most of the time, as you’ve probably noticed already), syntax issues are due to the structure of their first language and not so much a disability. For example, many of our students usually omit the “s” when it’s a plural or the verb forms of “to be.” Hence why we’ll hear things like, “She reading” instead of, “She is reading” or “two book” instead of “two books.” All we can do in our 30 minutes of ESL teaching is shape shape shape.
What is shaping? It’s what we do with our students on a daily basis, believe it or not. We’re not even Speech Pathologists or therapists and many of us do it (*high five!*). Shaping is teaching the learner to make gradual approximations towards the desired pronunciation. For our special needs learners, we might not achieve the actual desired response, due to delays and impediments, but we can achieve and accept responses that are close— given their ability. For example, a student who cannot say “milk” and instead says “bilk” can be assisted with the individual, isolated sounds within the word, and then you can help them put it all together. You’ve done that before, haven’t you? I told you so.
Qkids is undoubtedly an inclusive learning platform and we are all warriors for being able to work with whatever is thrown our way! Many teachers in your typical classroom setting will get stressed out without formal documentation to address students with special needs and I’ve actually had coworkers who have left their jobs in the teaching field due to not having paperwork for students, such as IEPS. You’re a superhero. Why? We do it all the time with no supports like IEPs and still manage to sprinkle love and end our lessons with a smile, stickers, and diamonds, while ensuring the success of all of our students, even those with special needs in our online classrooms.
If you are an aspiring Qkids educator, I’d love to help as much as possible. Feel free to use the following link to apply: http://teacher.qkids.net/ref?code=OIFZBZ
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