Choosing a School for your Special Needs Child: A Day in an Enclosed Classroom
Choosing the right school for your child can be a daunting task. School tours and speaking with other parents with children attending the school are two great ways to see if the school would be a good fit. Another great way is a teacher perspective on what generally happens in the classroom each day. Today we'll be looking ata day in the enclosed classroom.
The above picture is NOT what my enclosed classroom looked like. In my first year teaching at a private school for kids with intellectual disabilities, pervasive developmental disorders or psychopathological disorders, I taught a class of 10 students between the ages of 4-6 years old. The students were diagnosed with low functioning autism, were non-verbal and timed toilet trained. I was working with students at a developmental level of about 18 months old. I had one full time aide and a second aide during meal and toileting times. What did I do with this group all day long? Let me describe our general schedule for the day.
1) Arrival Routine / Toileting / Free Play Our students would arrive staggered as aides brought them to the classroom from the buses. Taking advantage of the staggered arrival I was able to help each child with our arrival routine. The arrival routine consisted of opening their lockers, taking off their outerwear, changing from outdoor to indoor shoes, placing their agenda and lunchbag in designated areas and putting everything into their lockers. This sounds simple but for each of my students it required much prompting and physical help. Once the student finished this routine as independently as possible, they were dismissed to the Play Area. When students arrived as I was in the middle of the routine with another student, they had a chair to sit on until it was their turn. When my aides arrived, they would take the students who were in the Play Area one or two at a time to the toilet.
2) Work Period Our work period was loosely based upon the TEACCH program. Some students rotated between independent work and working with the teacher. Other students worked solely with the teacher. Our work activities included simple puzzles, file folders and TEACCH tasks. When students were not working independently or with a teacher, they were to be in the Play Area. When we first started the work periods, students were only able to sit and focus for about 5 minutes at a time. As the year progressed, we were able to work about 15 minutes at a time.
3) Circle Time Circle Time was added during the school year as my students were able to sit longer. I used this time to sing Preschool action songs and the primary goal was to provide daily opportunity for imitation. Imitiation is a crucial skill most children with autism do not have. As our regular songs were practiced, I could see the students beginning to anticipate songs and attempt some actions.
4) Activity Room Our activity rooms included pool, an indoor gym, a sensory room. We didn't always have these room due to scheduling issues. If we didn't have a particular room, we would take a walk around the school playing simplified versions of "Green Light/Red Light".
5) Lunch / Toileting After hands were washed, each student would get their lunch tray which we had already set up. We worked on introducing variety to meals, using our utiensils to eat, sitting to eat, asking for more and communicating finished. Lunch was a natural time to promote communication skills.
6) Movie / Free Play This is when I had my lunch hour and the students remained in the room with the two aides. After much trial and error, I finally figured out a movie that entertained all the kids. We used the Baby Genius Favourite Children's Songs DVD because it reviewed the songs we sang in Circle Time and it used a mix of real people and animation which captivated the students. If students were not interested in the movie, they were encouraged to use the Play Area or to work with the aide on educational tasks.
7) Sensory Activity / Arts & Crafts / Outing For many of our students this was a favourite time. It allowed for some down time while working on fine motor skills. Our sensory bins could be filled with sand, rice, beans, shaving cream, pasta and a variety of other things. Students would have scoops, toilet paper rolls and brushes. Much supervision was required to make sure the classroom remained semi-clean! When the weather was warm enough, we would head to the local park. Although students would head to their favourite spots, I would encourage them to go on an obstacle course with me.
8) Departure Routine / Toileting The departure routine was the opposite of the arrival routine. Once again we were promoting independence in self care. We also worked on waiting patiently for the final bell as they sat in chairs and did finger plays.
We were a busy classroom! Although we were in an enclosed classroom, I was not just baby sitting. We worked hard to increase their independent skill levels and to promote socialization. Now after reading this you might be asking how each day could run so smoothly. Well, it didn't but that's a story for another day...