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Guide for the School Counselor Working with Special Education Students

written by: Sharon Dominica • edited by: Amanda Grove • updated: 9/11/2012

Are you a school counselor who needs some ideas on how to support special education students? Here is some insight on what issues students with special needs face at school, and how you can support them.

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    Students with special needs face many challenges and obstacles during the course of their education. The simplest tasks and can become a huge problem for them if they are not able to get around it. In addition, tasks take a lot more time and effort, and they may find it difficult to cope with all the expectations. Most of all, students with special needs often struggle with social issues and may find that people around them don’t understand them. In these circumstances, a school counselor working with special education students can help them go through and overcome the difficult situations. In some cases, they may be able to be a mediator and communicate the student’s situation to the school, teachers, parents or fellow students. Here are some of the ways the counselor can support a special needs student in an academic setup.

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    Role of a Counselor in an Academic Setup:

    Support for Practical Issues:

    A special needs student usually faces many practical issues while going to school or college. These could be as simple as finding it difficult to use the school toilets, or not being able to write their assignments because of hand function difficulties. A lot of teachers are sensitive to these issues, and may provide solutions in the classroom itself. However, some teachers may not understand the student’s difficulties, or may not know how to help. In some cases, the adaptations or modifications required may require an investment by the school. In these situations, the counselor can talk to the student about the problems and find solutions that will work for the student, as well as the school and the teachers. In some cases, the counselor can talk to the parents and find ideas that work for them at home.

    Support for Academic Issues:

    Students may struggle with some academic issues related to their special needs. Students may have a different learning style from what is usually used in the classroom, they may need more time for assignments, or may not be able to see the board. All these issues will reflect on the test scores. Thus, the counselor must regularly talk to the student about academics, test scores, and any difficulties they are facing related to their studies. It might also be useful to have a chat with teachers and find out their perspective of how things are going in the classroom.

    Support for Emotional Issues:

    School or college can be stressful and frustrating for any student, and especially for a student with special needs. A counselor often needs to provide emotional support to the student with special needs. This may include listening to the student, suggesting stress management techniques and looking at their daily schedules to see if they are having a balanced life. A positive outlook is essential for a student with special needs to be able to deal with the challenges of school and college.

    Support for Social Issues:

    Making friends, dating, and dealing with other students can all be difficult for students with special needs. In some schools or college, students with special needs may be teased, bullied or just ignored. All these situations can be difficult to handle. The counselor can help by helping them to interpret their situations correctly and suggest ideas that will help them make friends and build relationships. In cases of teasing, bullying or negative attitudes towards the special needs student, the counselor can work with the teacher to help the other students be more aware of the challenges that special needs students face every day, and also help them appreciate the good qualities in them. Getting the other students involved in supporting and standing up for students with special needs can help them grow to become kind and aware citizens.

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    Special Tips and Ideas:

    Special needs students are just like other students their age in many ways. However, you will often find that they have a lot of maturity and emotional strength from all the situations that they’ve been through. The best thing that you can do for a child with special needs is to be their friend. In some rare cases, you will find special needs students who are struggling with severe depression, behavior disturbances and other psychiatric issues. A counselor will need to talk to the parents in these cases, and refer them to a psychiatrist for medical treatment. However, more commonly you will meet some students who have become bitter and angry with the people around them because of the difficult situations in their past. For these students, you will need to walk with them on a journey and help them see the world around them with a new perspective.

    Hope these ideas were useful for you as a school counselor working with special education students. Finally, remember that students with special needs are also adolescents and teenagers dealing with all the issues that come with that age, and support them with that in mind.

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    Crepeau,Cohn and Schell. Willard and Spackman’s Occupational Therapy. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2003

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