How do you handle the child that struggles with classroom procedures?
Jack is a rambunctious first grader in constant motion. He struggles with peer interactions, establishing friendships and classroom activities. He doesn’t participate appropriately in group lessons and has a short attention span.
The reality is that not every student in your classroom will be able to integrate, much less master, the classroom procedures that help a classroom run smoothly. Whether the student comes in with an attention or sensory disorder, a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome or high functioning autism or simply struggles with social/pragmatic cues, their difficulty in navigating typical routines can be disruptive to others and hinder their own self-esteem and it often begins with difficulty in attention.
Here are a few tips you can use:
- Choose placement carefully. Jack will do better at a desk removed from additional distractions. Sit at it yourself. Is it easy for movement in the hall to catch your eye? Is it too easy to gaze out a window? A wiggly body is likely to disturb neighbors. If you can keep Jack’s desk independent of others or in a smaller grouping, you are more likely to meet with success.
- Choose appropriate neighbors. You may be thinking about which personalities are likely to mesh, but consider some other traits as well. If Jack has issues with eye contact, a neighbor seated to the side will be less disturbing than one placed across from him. If seating across is appropriate or unavoidable, perhaps choose a smaller classmate so legs/feet aren’t constantly bumping.
- Establish attention first. Traditionally, classroom teachers are instructed to pose a question and then chose a child to answer. To help Jack participate in lessons you need to alert him to the question before you ask it, “Jack, what month are we in today,” to avoid repeating yourself frequently.
- Re-establish attention. Find out Jack’s tolerance for touch by asking a parent, therapist or last year’s teacher. Many kiddos prefer firm pressure to a light tap. As you see attention begin to wander, try placing a hand on their shoulder for a moment without saying anything to bring Jack back to topic. Consider handing him a “fidget” like a stress-relieving ball as you go by. Occupied hands often improve attention.
- Allow breaks. Breaks don’t necessarily mean “free time” in the back of the classroom while the rest of the class attends to another activity. You might ask Jack to bring a note to the classroom teacher next door or to the office (the content is beside the point—send them a joke!). Jack is an ideal assistant for handing out books (the heavier load can be calming) or pushing desks/chairs out of the way. Or get in the habit of having the entire classroom take movement “brain breaks” for a minute or two between activities.
Visual reminders can also be useful. I’ve created “tents” that you can use to remind the Jack in your classroom to stay on task. The first tent is to alert Jack to appropriate talking cues. The three sides show: listening, quiet talking, and social time. The sides are color coded like a traffic light—red (no talking), yellow (some is ok), red (social time). Each side also has a frame indicating the color facing Jack. So, if you are facing Jack’s desk and he has the red, no talking reminder in front of him, you will see a red frame on your side. I would recommend having a teacher or assistant turn the tent as needed and not the child. Simply touching the tent will be another attention alert. If you need more stability, add a velcro dot to the desk and at the top of each tent side.
The second tent can be used if Jack struggles with the noise within the classroom environment. In this situation, I would allow Jack to manipulate the tent to show that he is in need of: quiet space (please don’t talk to me right now), open to one-on-one conversation or open to social interaction. Again these are coded red, yellow, green with matching frames on the opposite side.
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