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Succeeding with inclusive education strategies for children with additional needs

Understanding which adjustments work for children with additional needs presents a challenge for early childhood and primary school educators. Author of the freshly updated The A to Z of Special Needs, Anne Vize, explains successful practices for providing access and inclusion for children with additional needs.
Additional needs children success

Inclusive education is an expectation in primary schools and early years settings. But sometimes educators have worries about inclusion and how to teach children with additional needs effectively.

Worries about inclusive education often centre around resources, training and meeting the needs of all children in a group. Many educators are concerned they don’t know enough about inclusive education strategies or what terminology to use. They fear getting things wrong or causing offence. Some avoid asking questions about special education and disability because they think they should already know all the answers. They are concerned they don’t have enough training. Or sufficient resources to be effective at meeting diverse learning needs in a busy, dynamic classroom or learning space.

Adjustments for additional needs

Modifying learning experiences for children with additional needs is common in most learning settings. We know that adjustments to learning programs, assessments or pedagogy happen frequently. In 2019, nearly one in five children received a learning needs adjustment due to a disability in Australian schools. (AITSL 2020)

These adjustments will be effective if they are combined with knowledge, skills and a positive attitude towards inclusive practice. Research tells us the most effective ways to increase positive behaviours and attitudes to inclusive practice. One of them is to include information about disability and special needs in pre-service teacher training.

‘It is important that pre-service teachers emerge from their training with positive attitudes towards inclusion and equity, as these may predict inclusive classroom practice…’ (Goddard & Evans, 2018). 

Teachers need to feel confident they have the skills, knowledge and resources to implement inclusive education effectively. And have a strong evidence base to support their approach.

So which inclusive education strategies work best to support and teach a child with special needs? What can educators do to provide effective access and inclusion in their primary school or early years setting?

Team approaches to inclusive education strategies

Educators don’t work in isolation. Children with additional needs are supported by a group which may include allied health professionals, parents and caregivers, special education professionals and the child themselves.

Educators can draw on the knowledge and skills of all members of the support team to learn the best ways of providing access and inclusion for each individual child. They can find out how to:

  • communicate well with the child
  • maximise learning outcomes
  • modify the learning spaces
  • promote positive behaviour.

For example, a regular support group meeting can make sure a child with autism is achieving their learning goals and adjustments are made when needed.

Manage the learning environment for children with additional needs

Some children with additional needs do best when the learning environment is managed to reduce sensory load from lighting, movement and sounds.

Educators can change the sensory load for a child by:

  • having quiet times or spaces in a room
  • preparing for a transition from one place to another
  • reducing visual clutter in a display.

For example, some neurodiverse children may prefer activity breaks, routines with clear start and stop points and reminders to help them complete a learning activity.

help children with additional needs succeed
Image by Ron Lach from Pexels

Routines foster positive behaviour for learning

Managing schedules and transitions can be tricky, and this is when classroom and group management can become challenging. Having a clear routine that is shared with all children can help.

Use visual schedules with graphics or pictures to show what happens first, next and last. Give auditory or visual prompts to cue a child into changes, then provide time to prepare for a change in place or activity. For example, you can use a visual schedule with individual activity cards so a child can remove each card when the activity is complete. 

Behaviour as communication

It’s easy to spot behaviour that isn’t a good fit with the learning needs of a class, but it’s much harder  to know what to do about it. Understanding that behaviour is communication is a great starting point.

‘All behaviours have a meaning, serve a purpose and communicate a child’s need at that moment’ (ACT Government Community Services, 2021).

Children with additional needs don’t set out to behave in ways that are disruptive or upsetting just for the sake of it, but often because they are communicating using actions rather than words. Your task is to work out what the behaviour is saying.

Is the lighting too bright or the room too busy and loud? Is the task difficult or frustrating? Does a developmental language disorder mean they have not understood key information? Ask questions and think about precedents to and consequences of a behaviour to prompt positive behaviour for learning. For example, a child with ADHD in a primary school might struggle with a flexible learning space with lots of sound and movement.

additional needs child
Image by SP3CialStock from Pixabay

Individual adjustments for children with special needs

Adjusting for individual learning needs means finding out what works best for each child, then building those adjustments into learning experiences and routines. For example, a child with intellectual disability may prefer visual cues and clear communication to support their understanding.

Knowing which individual adjustments work for each child’s individual learning needs is fundamental to inclusive practice in early years settings and primary school. 

About the author

Anne Vize specialises in writing for children and young people who learn in different and unique ways. She is a special educator and writer from Melbourne and works to develop print and digital resources for children, their teachers and supporters. She works in the vocational sector developing learning resources for training providers and creates freelance content to support the new vocational major curriculum in Victoria. Anne is fortunate to be able to divide her time between writing and exploring the wonders of sailing and windsurfing on the stunning Port Phillip Bay.

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