Teaching preschoolers with special needs can be challenging if you are not trained for it. These 4 tips will help you know how to handle the situation when you notice certain behaviors in a child or when a family contacts you about enrolling their special needs child.
Partner With The Parents
If you notice certain special needs behaviors in one of your preschoolers, how you speak with the family is so important. The parents need to feel like you are their partner.
Invite the parents for a quick after-school meeting. Build rapport, be sure to smile and refer to them by name. Ask questions about their family, maybe about a trip they recently took, or about their new pet. Tell them a few things you enjoy about having their child in your class.
Then pivot the conversation, saying, “I just wanted to chat with you. I have noticed that Johnny (XYZ BEHAVIOR) in class…” Name specific behaviors: avoids eye contact with me, doesn’t talk to the other students, etc. Avoid implying that these behaviors are bad, just state that you have noticed them.
The Key Question
Next, ask this very important question: “Have you seen that at home?”
This question opens the door for them to either agree or disagree with your concerns, but it is not confrontational or accusing. It gives them the opportunity to tell you any behaviors they may have noticed or makes them aware of behavior their child may be exhibiting when he is away from them.
The parent may say they haven’t noticed the behavior at home, and they may be concerned that the behavior is only happening at preschool. Or, they may say something like, “Yes, and I’ve actually been really worried about it. What can I do?”
Be Careful Not To Diagnose Or Label
You are not a doctor (at least not in this scenario) so avoid diagnosing or labeling the child. If a parent asks if their child has a certain diagnosis, always answer with, “I’m not a doctor so I don’t know, but you’d probably want to write down behaviors you are seeing and I can write down what I am seeing, so you can discuss them with your doctor. They can guide you as to what needs to be done, if anything.” Then they can take those concerns to their pediatrician who can let them know if there are any concerns and what to do if so.
What To Do If You Don’t Feel You Are Able To Help A Child
Your primary goal for your preschool is to serve each child to reach their full potential, but if you are not trained, staffed, and equipped to serve special needs children your preschool may not be the best fit for them. If you do not feel confident in your ability to teach a child, refer the parents to a facility that has the staff and resources that will benefit the child.
There are great programs that teach preschoolers with special needs (including preschools in your local school district) so find some of these preschools to refer families to, if necessary.