As mentioned in a previous post, special needs kids often excel in areas such as science and social studies. I do remember when those were the very subjects my students would miss in order to receive a double dose of reading and math or to attend a social skills group. Also, science and social studies may be textbook-boring, instead of the hands-on, energized subjects we might hope for. Putting those two dilemmas aside, science and social studies can provide terrific opportunities for leadership training with our twice exceptional and high-functioning autistic kids.
There are a number of ways to take advantage of these kids’ interests and skills in science and/or social studies. Here’s the shortened version: assign special needs kids as “teaching assistants” or “mentors” to small groups rotating through centers in a regular classroom. You’ll need a willing classroom teacher, schedule congruities, and a heads-up on science/social studies topics. With rehearsal in a social skills or other small group (even reading, writing, or math), you’ll provide rubric-based practice for your leaders-in-training. Depending upon your student’s maturity and skill levels, you could assign them to work with younger or same age peers. Here are some other important steps:
- Make sure your kids have opportunities to develop familiarity with that classroom teacher and room (visit during lunch or before school).
- Provide your student with the center topic, materials, and expectations (preferably assisted by the classroom teacher/assistant and reinforced by special ed teacher and perhaps parents).
- Have an adult nearby for at least the first rotation of students; a classroom or special ed assistant (prepared to use the same rubric as the student) would be perfect.
- Review the adult’s rubric and comments after the first center activities are complete. I set up a Wikispace for assistants to provide me immediate feedback.
- Plan on meeting with your student as soon as possible after their first session to elicit feedback and review the rubric.
This process is a bit labor-intensive on the front end, but soon settles into a routine. Voilà! Your special needs student becomes the resident expert, other kids now look up to him, and his confidence and skills have received a huge boost. The following rubric is a sample for this process and would need to be individualized for each student. The student’s “title” should reflect their role and aspirations. Their goal (number of stars) should also be defined and gradually increase over time.