By any other name they are still the same....our special little kids that we love, but aren't always sure how to meet their needs the best. Many art teachers are given little to no training in working with special needs children. Yet...from day one we find them in our classroom(often mainstreamed in with another class). How can you provide a meaningful experience for these precious children?
Know your audience!! When you step foot into a school, you need to find out what special programs are offered & who participate in them. Usually the teachers that work with these students will be more than happy to share with you the needs/abilities & special "tricks" of their students. They will be happy that you have shown a personal interest in their kids!!!! Plus, it will let you know what kind of modifications need to be made for each child.
Know how they will be coming to you. Will they have an assistant? What class will they come with? Will they come in one large group without any other classes? This will help you plan. There are many children who are classified as special needs, but are extremely high functioning. They can set with the other students & be expected to perform almost like any other child. This allows them to interact with others...and rise up to the expectations placed on the "average" student. WIN WIN situation. I have found that the students from the "regular" class will kind of adopt the child with special needs. Now you will need to address your "regular" ed students about what is and is not appropriate if they are going to be helping your special needs student.
Provide alternate activities for your children with special needs. I have created an area where the assistant can obtain materials for her students to work on once they have finished the project I introduced to the class as a whole(SIDE NOTE: not all of my special needs kids come with an assistant...and not all of them need alternate activities). I like my special needs kids to at least try the project that the other kids are working on. Some of them truly surprise/amaze me with what they are able to do. However, some of my special kids can not work for an hour on a project. They work for awhile, and once I see they are beginning to "overwork" their paper, I then provide the alternate activity. You should never have to "search" for something for your students to do....having these materials on hand also allows me to keep my attention on the 23 other students in my room.
Please feel free to leave comments if you have questions or thoughts to share about working with special needs kids!!!