10 Things I Learned Working with Special Needs Kids

Universal/accessible design of the home from an occupational therapy and a construction perspective. This blog is part of a quest for cool, convenient, functional design that makes life safer, easier, and as maintenance-free as possible. It's about the lifestyle.
It's good to periodically review some of the lessons life teaches you... here are a few of the things I am learning as a student in occupational therapy working with kids that have severe cognitive impairments...

10. It’s good to wash your hands
A lot of the kids I work with think that putting soap on their hands and rinsing it off is enough… learning how to wash hands independently is an important skill that should not be overlooked!

9. Don’t be afraid of the obvious
I learned yesterday from a young man that it is important to choose your battles.  I wanted to have him practice putting his coat on and off…. He only wanted his coat on.  After a few minutes – I had to settle for the obvious… he was going to win this battle and his coat was gonna stay on – so… we began learning how to zip coats instead 

8. Don’t be afraid of a mess
This lesson was from the kids that I teach how to use utensils at the table.  It’s okay to be a little messy as long as you are learning… long towels work as good bibs too 

7. Don’t get too attached to the toys but the person
I worked with one little girl that destroys just about every toy I give her.  She’ll use her hands, teeth, the wall…. Anything.  Rather than fighting constantly with her to not break things, I decided to only give her things she can break and work from there.  She has been so much fun to work with… one of my favorites… she’s quick, so I have to be one step ahead. 

6. Go with the flow
I walk in to work every morning with a plan in my head that I know is going to fly out the window the minute I walk through the door.  “Why make the plan?” You wonder… I make the plan for my sanity…. But am not attached to my plan.  There is always another form to fill out, a question to answer to, and a problem to solve. 

5. Sometimes it’s good to cry
I learned from one of my younger patients that sometimes you just have to cry.  Life isn’t easy and you might just have to fight through it.  Don’t let the tears stop you from working hard.  

4. Life is short – so be excited about the little things
Small achievements are big successes when working with people who have disabilities.  One of my students moved her arm today…. And another gave me a big smile when I walked in the room.  To me, these are things worthy of making a big deal out of.  Anything for a party right?

 3. Baby steps

At one point during my internship, my instructor and I were discussing whether we should drop one of the kids off of our case load or if therapy was in fact helping her.  It was not until we reviewed our reports from last year that we realized that instead of being able to sit up for 5 seconds, she was indeed able to sit up for 12.  Therefore, we continued to work with her…. We don’t give up that easy!

 2. Communication isn’t always with words
Working with children that are nonverbal taught me that words aren’t always enough.  People use their hands, eyes, mouth, tone, posture to communicate more effectively than their words - - - I am by no means good at this yet…. But I am learning

1. Kids are kids
Yes… kids with severe impairments might not be able to move their arms or legs, talk, eat, or roll over… But they love to be loved, they love attention, to be sung to, to swing, to jump on a trampoline, to stretch, to listen to music.  Motivation is key.  Figure out what motivates the child and they will come alive right before your eyes

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