8 principles for working with special children


Ordinary children are naturally “programmed” for learning and development. They are quick to respond to everything new, try, take risks, they have internal incentives that help them move forward. A child with developmental disabilities – regardless of his diagnosis – needs additional stimulation, help from adults in order to learn new skills and explore the world.

In order for this help to be really effective, parents should consider several important principles of interaction with such a child. Sarah Newman, who herself raised her son with developmental disabilities, talks about them and wrote one of the best practical guides in this area – “Games and activities with a special child.”

1. Give your child more time to respond than you think is sufficient.

When asking a child a question, all parents wait for some time for an answer. They do it unconsciously. Studies have shown that the “waiting time” for most of them is approximately the same. However, a child with special needs takes longer, so parents should wait longer than instinct dictates.

Children with cerebral palsy have difficulty in controlling their facial muscles: it takes time for them to respond with a smile to a smile. When playing with your child, you expect a verbal response, a smile, or some other reaction, wait as long as your intuition tells you, and then count to ten silently. Don’t rush the child. Be patient.

2. Repeat your words and actions persistently

You may have to repeat it over and over and over to get the child to understand and respond. You may feel like you’re trying to knock your head through a wall, but sooner or later, persistence will pay off.

3. Get your child’s attention

One of the hardest tests for parents is associated with the lack of responsiveness that children with special needs often show. It is extremely difficult to constantly give a child love, time, attention and care and not receive anything in return. All that remains for you is not to give up and continue to love him. Sooner or later you will receive your reward, however modest.

To get your child’s attention when you are going to play or practice with him, first of all do something extraordinary, not like what he is used to. Try to make your face “interesting”, not boring for the child. You can for example:

  • Smile broadly and often.
  • Make faces – wrinkle your nose, raise your eyebrows.
  • Make funny sounds.
  • Put on something unusual: an extravagant hat, unusual glasses (very large, colored, curly), large bright earrings, a “clown” nose, a mask.
  • Paint your face.

You can also lightly blow on his cheek. Or even just sit very still and very still. A change in behavior can get more attention than vigorous activity. Never force your child to look at you, no matter how difficult and long it takes to make contact.

8 principles for working with special children

4. Engage all of his senses

Most children with special needs learn new things more easily if adults try to use all their senses. This is especially important for children with cognitive impairments, but the multisensory approach is also very useful for those who lack communication skills.

Remember the phrase: “I heard, I saw, I did!” Instead of just telling your child about a subject, include other ways of thinking. When it comes to fruit, show him the fruit, let him hold, smell, play with and taste. A real object is perceived much easier than a picture in a book.

Many children are better at comprehending visual images than words. Therefore, it is not enough just to show or tell the child what you are doing, he must try to perform the same action himself. You can use the “hand in hand” method – take the child’s hands in yours and help him.

Even adults often face this: listening to an explanation, we seem to understand everything, and after five minutes everything said disappears from our memory. Much better remembered what we saw, or tried to do ourselves, or wrote down – in a word, when assimilation is accompanied by actions that help to consolidate new information in memory.


1. Toysinteresting to watch (brightly colored toys with flashing lights, soap bubbles, different flashlights and unusual lamps).

2. Physical movement… Rock the child on your lap, tickle, hug, roll on the bed, circle around you, toss and catch, jump up and down with the child in your arms.

3. Sounds… Play musical instruments and sing your favorite songs. Play a xylophone with your child, use “sounding” toys, take him to concerts, listen to street musicians with him.

4. Smells… Try to make “fragrant boxes”. Take a few small boxes, for example from under the Tik-Tock, fill them with odorous substances (spices, coffee, tea, crushed orange peels) and let the child smell. Use aromatherapy oils.

5. Feeling… Let your child touch objects made of materials that produce different tactile sensations: smooth (silk and velvet), rough, prickly (hair brush), cold, warm, hard (stone), soft (fur), etc.

5. Be consistent and predictable in your actions.

Children love a clear daily routine and a constancy of the environment, because they want to understand what is happening around them, and be able to predict events: this gives them a sense of confidence and security.

If a child suffers from a perception impairment or lack of communication skills, it may be difficult for him to understand what is happening around him. It is all the more important to organize his life according to the principle of clear repetition and constancy.

Avoid sudden changes in the environment: for example, if the child has impaired vision, do not change or rearrange the furniture in the apartment. Be consistent and consistent in your reactions to your child’s behavior (especially bad behavior).

Create a schedule for him: the child should get up, go to bed, eat lunch at the same time. Observe clear rules of conduct: for example, “you can eat and drink only while sitting at the table.” However, the schedule should not interfere with life, so some variations in it are acceptable and even necessary to prevent the unhealthy fixation on the schedule inherent in some children.

8 principles for working with special children

6. Summarize the acquired skills

The words “a child is fluent in such and such a skill” means that he is able to perform the required action not only with his toys, but also with unfamiliar objects, not only at home with his parents, but also in an unfamiliar environment and in front of strangers. In particular, doctors and psychologists always test a child’s progress in this way.

If parents report that the child has learned to select objects by color, he must demonstrate his skill not only with the set on which he trained at home, but also with unfamiliar things. Give him the opportunity to test himself more often: offer unfamiliar objects to play, encourage him to play in different environments.

7. Don’t get stuck on one skill

Parents often fixate on one skill and develop it as diligently as if the child’s life depends on it. This can happen because people around constantly ask: “Is he already sitting?”, “Well, how, has he already gone?” or may be related to the parents’ own ideas about what is most important to the child.

In any case, such “stuck” is harmful. A child is an integral personality, his skills develop in a complex way, in interaction with each other, and it is difficult to isolate one skill from the rest.

The child should feel that his occupation is an important task that needs to be completed.

For example, to put an object in a box, a child must master both physical skills – the ability to pick up and release an object, and an intellectual skill – the ability to match the size of the box and the object. Learning one skill can have a beneficial effect on learning others, even if the link between them is not obvious. Developing communication skills helps the child better understand the feelings and reactions of people and thus influences behavior.

8. Always get things done.

If you ask the child to complete some task, but he does not want or cannot do it, do it for him, saying, for example: “Okay, then mom will do it.” The child should feel that his occupation is an important task that needs to be completed. If you just shrug your shoulders and move on to something else, the child gets the impression that his success is not really needed by anyone.

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