“if I am not in the world simply to adapt to it, but rather transform it, and if it is not possible to change the world without a certain dream or vision for it, I must make use of every possibility there is not only to speak about my utopia, but also to engage in practices consistent with it.” – Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Indignation
Nowadays several schools and teachers are interested in learning more about Special Educational Needs. It is a very important issue, and yet, it is hardly ever addressed in undergraduate degrees or on teacher training paths.
Just like many of you, I took part in workshops focused on teachers’ development, but I never had the chance to deliver a workshop with emphasis on Special Educational Needs until the day I had the chance to teach children with special needs.
Even in the most important conferences around the world, this issue still has small audiences; there are great deal of researches about methodologies, curriculum such as the one in the field of inclusive education: “time for a rethink?” by Dr.Kyriaki Messiou and articles about inclusive education available on the internet. However, when it comes to teaching in the ELT context, just a few online blogs are related to this topic. Yet, each day more and more children are diagnosed with disabilities.
Whether they are visual or not, both children and adults are diagnosed with a wide range of disabilities including dyslexia and autism. Their disabilities are categorized by their ICD (International Classification of Diseases) and most of us, teachers, do not know how to deal with them, and why exactly is it so important this information to us? The answer is that we will surely have one of these kids in our classroom and we should be prepared for it. We cannot turn a blind eye to them anymore!
The first time I attended a conference on this particular issue was in 2013 in Washington D.C. It was sponsored by Autism Speaks (it is an autism advocacy organization in the United States). It was a one-day-seminar organized by parents for the community.
I was the only teacher from South America who had come all the way from the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro there. It was such an awakening moment in my career. I was teaching a group of students with special needs for the second time in my life, and as many of you, I did not know how to teach them and what kind of techniques or approaches to use.
They were adorable students but many teachers refused to teach them due to many factors, as mentioned in my research project on inclusive education in 2014):
1- The schools were very open to inclusion but their teachers were not prepared to teach those kids; there were no adapted materials, no workshops, or training available at the time)
2- The schools were not ready for inclusion because it was very expensive to hire a teacher (mediator) for those specific students;
3- Neither the schools nor the teachers had any interest in teaching those children because it was too challenging for them (some teachers claimed that they did not have the ability to teach children. However, according to research, we have to consider that some disabilities such as dyslexia and autism were diagnosed in some teenagers and adults after their childhood, which specialists refer to as late diagnosis)
4- NO we do not accept children or teenagers with special needs.
Today the scenario is somewhat different because of Law 12.764 known as Berenice Piana. Yet, many parents, teachers and schools are facing problems related to the implementation of the law and its bureaucracy.
Therefore, when we decide to break the chains and build an inclusive environment it is necessary take some risks. Most of the time those who accept to take those risks are the teachers themselves: We are the ones who try our best to create awareness in our schools both inside and outside of our classrooms, even when we are not ready for it. We are the ones who pursue a sense of equality and inclusion.
We deal with children and adults from all walks of life. Thus, we are there to make their learning moment unique and meaningful. We have to keep in mind that most of us are not licensed educational psychologists, so it goes without saying that we are not qualified to diagnose our students. However many people do and it is not legal or ethical. What I recommend is that we should inform our coordinators or DoS whether we are facing problems that go beyond our duties in the classroom.
We are there to teach English and help them to interact with the world around them with empathy. Walking in someone else’s shoes can really make the difference in our classes from Children to Adults; from School to University.
Nevertheless, we have to improve our practice always. I strongly suggest that those who are involved in SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) take a plenty of courses, not only in our fields (Pronunciation, TDC or Young Learners) but also in areas which will help you understand peculiar behaviors, social interaction and mediation; a Psicopedagogy curriculum is a good option for those who are looking for Inclusive Education. Approaches and techniques (*TEACCH, ABA, PECS, UDL) for adaptation and designing materials. By including those courses and your ability to teach English you will feel more confident when dealing with special students.
Inclusive education is about being open to possibilities, working with different approaches, thinking and reflecting on each individual’s peculiarities. Also remember that you will be working together as a group, and lastly, you should take into consideration your students’ needs.
You should consider carrying out a needs analysis in the context of inclusive education as it might help you develop a taylor-made transdisciplinary curriculum. It might be a good idea to refer to the UDL (Universal Design Learning) on children with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and dyslexia.
In an inclusive education, there are some steps I have taken and I would like to share them with you:
1- Be open to newness;
2- Be ready to work together as a group or team;
3- No one is left behind;
4- Each student will have an equal opportunity to learn;
5- Identify possible learning barriers, such as shyness, apraxia, low-self esteem among others;
6- Identify possible support (classmates, mediator, multidisciplinary professionals, school and parents). Try a collaborative partnership.
7- Provide consistent evaluation and feedback which can be designed and adapted assignments or portfolios.
*TEACCH – Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children
*ABA – Applied Behavior Analysis
*PECS – The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
Each teacher has his or her own strategies. The goal is to succeed and once you choose to become an inclusive educator, not only will you improve your teaching skills but you will also improve yourself as a human being.
Diretrizes para formação de Psicopedagogos https://www.abpp.com.br/documentos_referencias_diretrizes_formacao.html
MIRANDA, T.G.:Galvão Filho, T.A (org) O professor e a educação inclusiva: Formação, práticas e lugares. Salvador. EDUFBA. 2012
Special Educational Needs Booklets for parents: https://ncse.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/ChildrenWithSpecialEdNeeds1.pdf
Barnard, J., Harvey, V., Potter, D., & Prior, A. (2001). Ignored or ineligible? The reality for adults with autism spectrum disorders. London: The National Autistic Society.
Freire, Paulo. Daring to Dream: Toward a Pedagogy of the unfinished (Critical narrative) Paradigma. 2007
MESSIOU, K. Research in the field of inclusive education: time for a rethink?
International Journal of Inclusive Education. Southhamptom: Taylor Francis online, 2016.
Autism Speaks: https://www.autismspeaks.org