In response to a question about how to support special needs kids in school assemblies, I have created the following rubric. Before using it, though, you need to role-play and discuss the relevant issues. For some kids with sensory disorders, an assembly can be a nightmare of sound, action, and bodies. Most kids already know what aspects of an assembly are the most distressing. The assembly’s topic, length, volume, and visuals can all create problems. Many presenters begin by greeting the audience and then ratcheting up “attentiveness” by repeating, “I can’t hear you!” At that point, maybe 200 kids are screaming at the top of their lungs, so my student with sensory overload is already in dire straits. Consider these issues:
- Seating: Try to place your student near an adult who will be responsive to your student’s needs, including leaving the assembly if needed. Seating near the end of a row is also helpful for quick exits and for reducing the number of people clustered around your kid.
- Topic: Consider an alternative, non-punitive activity if you know the assembly topic will trigger serious distress. I’ve had kids who were freaked out by scary puppets and “evil” characters. With their parents’ approval, they could skip assemblies with a fairy tale focus. You may include that modification on IEPs as necessary.
- Volume: A small pair of foam ear plugs may help; check with parents first.
- Preview: Most assembly presenters provide a description of their performance, including an online site. Students who know what’s coming are at an advantage. In fact, it’s remarkable how little any kids can describe an assembly. We’ve often discussed them during lunch bunches and I’ve been amazed at how little the “typical learners” retained.
- Debriefing: In light of the item above, follow up with your kids by eliciting details and sequence of events. Like a good lawyer, don’t ask questions for which you don’t know the answer! It’s best to attend the assembly yourself, if possible.