The importance of observation as opposed to commanding with SEN children
Parents Get Overwhelmed When “Special” Kids Start School
Experts’ Advice: Reprimand Less, Observe More
In Hong Kong, there are at least 40,000 children with Special Education Needs (SEN) but only over 60 special education schools are available. As such, the Education Bureau encourages mainstream schools to accept SEN students and promotes integrated education. Many parents of SEN students view attending mainstream schools as a good starting point for their children to be integrated with society. Hence, they are willing to embark on this long and difficult journey.
After school has started, many SEN parents then realize there are many school-related issues that are difficult to manage. For example, does their child know how to go to the washroom? Do they remember to close the cubicle door when in the toilet? Are they bullied by their classmates? Although social workers and teachers are in school, parents are still concerned as it is unclear if they are given sufficient time to attend to SEN students.
Dreading Phone Calls from School
Some SEN children may have difficulty paying attention in class hence they may get bored. When this happens, they may exhibit disruptive behaviours, such as leaving their seats, disrupting the class, or may even shout and cry. They can also find it difficult to understand schoolwork as they learn at a slower pace compared to their mainstream peers. As a result, it is challenging for them to complete or revise their schoolwork on their own. Their parents also find this challenging as they have to put in extra efforts to supervise them. Hence, sometimes parents may have to resort to completing their homework.
Counsellor Fiona Tsang says: “SEN parents have countless concerns. They often dread receiving phone calls between 12 noon to 4 pm during school days. They worry that these calls are similar to the numerous ones they received before – calls from teachers to complain about their child’s behaviour. The parents also worry that if their child is expelled from school, as they can’t find another mainstream school that will accept him or her.”
SEN children may display disruptive behaviours because they cannot understand the concept of “obeying rules”. For instance, a child is curious when he notices a crack on a wall on his way to school (do note that almost anything can arouse the curiosity of SEN children). During school hours, he wants to see the crack again and therefore leaves school without anyone knowing. His disappearance then alarms everyone and the school has to make a police report. The child may not realize how severe the consequences of his actions are and how this affects his teachers and family.
Moderate Your Expectations of Your Child
SEN parents face huge challenges and pressure to let their child lead a “normal” life. To better manage this herculean task, Dr. Vinci Cheung (Honorary Assistant Professor from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Hong Kong) says: “Parents should first make some self-adjustments and work with a counsellor. A counsellor can show parents how to use observations to better understand their child’s limits and weaknesses, and identify the triggers to their child’s tantrum or inappropriate behaviours. The counsellor will also impart techniques on how to manage their child’s behaviour.”
Some SEN children are especially fond of certain patterns or textures. When the children see them, they will rush to see or touch them, ignoring their surroundings and disregarding if it is right to do so. Dr. Cheung says: “When this happens, parents should avoid scolding the child. Instead, tell the child you are aware that he or she likes the item. At the same time, patiently let him or her know that it belongs to others.”. Similarly, when a child is agitated by certain sounds, parents should not tell the child off but should comfort him or her. Children can feel wronged when parents use yelling and scolding to stop them from doing anything inappropriate. Hence, reprimanding them will only amplify their reactions and intensify the situation.
To ensure that their child can flourish in a mainstream school, SEN parents should set the right expectations for their child, as well as making adjustments on the ways to teach them. Dr. Vinci Cheung says: “SEN parents should accept that their child ‘s uniqueness in terms of behaviour, emotions and learning abilities compared to their non-SEN peers. Hence, do not make comparisons. A child’s learning progress and adaptability are important factors to take into considerations when deciding whether or not to enroll in a mainstream school.”
Tips for SEN Parents:
- Consider volunteering in your child’s school. This provides an opportunity to learn more about your child and his peers at school.
- Regularly attend activities organized for your child. This allows your child to interact more frequently with his or her peers, hence can be more easily accepted by them.
- Ask the teacher to rotate your child’s seatmate to help improve his or her social skills.
- Seek help from a counsellor to guide your child in learning how to get along with others.