This article intends to sensitize people on what children with special needs are and what it takes to train them.  I do not mean any offence when I say that the task is excruciatingly stressful for the stakeholders involved. I have tried to explain as to why it is that way using my experience at a special school. If research goes into developing ways and resources to make this easier, it will be a feat in the Social Work in Psychological sector. So far the main constraints are lack of technology, money, resources and awareness. I am trying to do my bit in spreading awareness by getting down to the specifics and give you an insider’s view of what happens in the training sector.

I interned at Vishwas Special Scool, Kilpauk Chennai. As part of my academic requirement while pursuing my Masters in Applied Psychology during 2011- 2013, I was supposed to intern at a special school and put to use the skills I had learned in a subject called Special Education.I had about 4 more friends interning at the same place. We spent about 25 hours over a few weeks observing about 30 children in that place. I was supposed to shadow one child and train him/her in life skills using that methods I had studied at college.

The child I dealt with was U.K *, who was ten years old. He was diagnosed as having ‘Moderate Mental Retardation'(MR) and ‘Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder'(ADHD). He hailed from a lower middle class family in Chennai. He could speak a few words in Tamil. The basic self help skills that he can do are drinking, eating, toileting, grooming etc. His mother had been subjected to a trauma during her fifth month of pregnancy and apart from that there were not any significant causes for  U.K’s condition. There has been no family history with regard to occurrence of such conditions.

As per his records, his developmental milestones were achieved late. According to his medical history, he had developed high fever within a year of his birth and the same fever recurred when he was five years of age. After this, it was observed that he started to manifest all the symptoms related to MR (trainable) and features of ADHD was officially diagnosed of these conditions then. Since there was a change in his Scholastic performance, he was transferred to various special schools after the diagnosis.

At Vishwas , he was being taught self help skills especially in the scholastic area. He was taught skills in grooming, expressive language, reading, writing, number, time, money, domestic and leisure time activity.

While, I was one of his trainers, he did not show disruptive behavior. He was obedient and interacted with groups. But he could not express his needs properly. He was restless, extremely active and had unusual talking patterns.

He was impulsive and needed personal attention for the entire time he was trained. If unsupervised, he would cease to perform any activity until there is external reinforcement. He did not initiate tasks unless he was given a push. He had certain problem behaviors that had showed a pattern of him being obsessive.

The latest assessments done by Psychologists recorded him to be restless in squirmy sense and easily distractible. He had difficulty remaining seated, difficulty sustaining attention. He had a tendency to meddle with things and was fairly cooperative for testing. He also had a very strong symptom of Echolalia.

He was assessed on the Seguin Form board test, the Binet Kamat Intelligence Scale and the Vineland Social Maturity Scale. His mental age was recorded to be 3 years and 8 months and his IQ was 35. His performance intelligence was better than his verbal intelligence. His intellectual functioning was in the Moderate MR range.

His mental abilities were poor with regard to memory, color and form perceptions. His developmental levels  were also poorly developed with regard to self help in eating and dressing; locomotion; communication; socialization and task performance. His  Bender Visual Motor Gestalt Test protocol showed moderate to severe disturbance of the Visuomotor Gestalt function.

However, he was trainable and had the scope to benefit by education and training at a special school  with special focus on  self- help skills training, positive reinforcement for adaptive behavior, parental counseling and thorough follow-ups.

His current level of functioning was assessed by administering the Madras Developmental Programming System scale (MDPS) by a consultant Psychologist and the results were found to be a little positive. Through training he had learnt a lot of self- help skills. He took care of personal hygiene and cooperated with his caregivers.   He obeyed and responded to simple instructions like  “look at me”, “come here” and so on. He stopped activities upon request such as “no” or “stop”. He performed simple errands, made vocal sounds to get people’s attention.

Individualized Educational Plan (IEP)

I was to provide some simple interventions for him in terms of training him to write, help him with concept formation ( teaching him geometrical shapes of circle, square, triangle etc.) and  teach him the concept of colors . I was supposed to create and Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) for him by assessing his current level of functioning in an area; formulate a goal that is, help him attain a higher level of functioning;  formulate different methods to achieve the goal and finally assess the results and the whole process.

Writing :

At that time he was able to copy with a pencil, vertical and horizontal lines and join dots to form shapes. Unless the dots had starting and ending points, he was unable to do so. Dots in diagonal manner confused the child.  The goal was to make him able to draw diagonal lines that lead to complex forms like house, trees etc., about 4-5 times within a given time period.

After considerable training,  U.K* picked up the skill very easily and was able to perform it efficiently 100% of the time before the deadline. He required constant supervision or he doodled. He needed constant instructions like ‘start’ otherwise he never initiated. Once he did initiate he  never stopped until given an instruction to ‘stop’. Some times out of restlessness, he drew more than what was required. He responded well to positive reinforcements.

Concept Formation:

He was able to name and draw an imperfect circle when he saw one. His goal was to identify a square and draw one at least 4 out of 5 times when shown a square. U.K* picked up the skill easily and was able to perform it efficiently 80% of the times. He required constant supervision and precise instructions; repeated demonstrations and corrections in order to get it right.  He tended to make mistakes when bored or annoyed so he needed a lot of encouragement.

Color Concepts:

At that point, when shown red colored objects, he was able to identify them objects belonging to red color. His goal was to respond with a ‘No’ when shown objects that did not belonging with the color red.

U.K was unable to pick up the skill. He knew that some objects were differently colored.  He would not give a ‘no’ to them and just stay silent. After a while he started naming all the objects red. There was a clear case of learning deterioration.

Expressive Language:

At that point, when  shown his belongings and asked if it belonged to him he replied with a  ‘yes’. His goal was to respond with a ‘no’. U.K* was unable to pick up the skill. In spite of knowing that some objects weren’t his, he stayed silent. He couldn’t give a ‘no’, but he could point to the person to whom the objects belonged.

Fine Motor Skills:

At that point in time, when asked to pick up mud, he used his hands separately inside of cupping them together to hold the mud. His goal was to pick up mud the appropriately and transfer it to a bucket without spilling.

U.K* was unable to pick up the skill. He mostly got distracted and cupped his hands when given a tactile stimulation. He still picked mud using hands separately and he was in need of constant supervision.

My Learning Experience:

For U.K*, I was able to diagnose Moderate MR with features of ADHD. He also had some symptoms of Autism. His speech and social interaction was poor. His scholastic aptitude was low as his attention span was low. He required constant attention, supervision and Differential reinforcement to be taught new skills.  A lot of materials were employed to keep him interested and I used a lot of innovative ways to teach him. He was able to fare well in life skills relatively better.

From what I have reported above, training children with special needs is a task that is very tedious and it requires us to put our souls in it. It is common for teachers and caregivers to undergo a lot of stress and disappointment when they fail in their attempts. It would also be very common for them to experience job burn-out. A lot more teachers are required in this field as teacher to children ratio is less. Teachers also are not paid well in this field and hence there is a chance of dissatisfaction in their jobs.

But, this profession is also being practiced by individuals whose natural personalities are very nurturing and caring. These individuals are very sensitized and have a lot of awareness about mental disorders. They willingly have decided to practice the profession and I have heard some inform me that this work is very ‘soul-fulfilling’.

According to my experience, careful study of what we learnt theoretically  in college and putting it to use practically was important and strenuous. But what was more important was that our own manners, responses and demeanor in special school affected the children significantly. It helped us polish our professional skills. In fact, we learnt a lot more than what the children learnt from us.

Unless we are trained to attune  ourselves – our personality, attitudes and thoughts, in accordance to that field, we are going to be stranded. Even worse, cause more damage than help the children.

Disclaimer :

  1. The names and places used are fictitious.
  2. The clinical terminologies used in the article to address conditions or conditions affecting certain individual are used in the Psychology and Social Work profession.
  3. If the terminologies I have used were in practice in 2012.  Some may be termed as inappropriate by readers or experts in the field. However, less offensive and more appropriate terminologies are being coined by prominent scholars every year and these are constantly evolving or in debate.
  4. The information I have provided is first hand and I own copyright to the same.
  5. I have not published this article anywhere else for monetary benefit. I have published a copy for the college’s research collection.
  6. Certain information of the original literature has been withheld and the original content has been reproduced in laymen’s terms by giving a personal touch to the article, for the sole reason of sensitizing the readers about social phenomena.