Teaching Students with Multiple Disabilities - Outdoor Strategies

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The Scenario

Picture this teaching situation:

Mark is teaching his first physical education class to students who are part of a satellite class within a mainstream school. His students include a range of ages from eight to 12 years. They have disabilities including autism, hearing impairments and vision impairments, and intellectual disabilities. He also has one student who has cerebral palsy.

Mark gives his first demonstration of a throwing and catching drill then sends the students off to practise in two straight lines. He has planned ahead by putting out a line of cones on the grass so students can see where to stand. What he has not planned for is the council truck which drives onto the oval through a side gate to complete some weed eradication works. A student loses control of a ball and runs to retrieve it. He is not looking at the truck, and Mark realises the truck driver has not seen the student…Disaster is averted by the quick thinking teacher aide who sprints to the student and pushes him out of the truck’s path.

So What Went Wrong?

Teaching students with multiple disabilities is simple if you follow some basic rules, which should be part of your general teaching strategies. Unfortunately Mark forgot a few of these.

Warning Signal / Emergency Signal - always have a way of calling students back to you, and for letting them know you need their attention NOW. Depending on your students, this could be the same as your usual attention getting method or it could be a specific emergency signal. For example, if you need to get your students out of their swimming lesson quickly because of an evacuation drill, can you?

Consider communication and actions via several methods - allow for the needs of students who do not move quickly, cannot travel over certain surfaces, may not hear or see a signal from you, or may behave in unpredictable or erratic ways. Mark did not think about how to communicate with his non-hearing students when they were out of visual range.

Plan for problems - think through what can go wrong and what you can do about it. Prevent any dangers which you can foresee by doing a risk management assessment (even thinking this through in your head is better than nothing). Have a plan for dealing with the unpredictable problems.

Don’t over reach - plan activities that are within the skill range of your students, then add small, success focused steps to build on this. Trying to do activities with which students are completely unfamiliar or which involve higher levels of inherent risk are obviously more dangerous. Outdoor settings and higher risk recreation activities are appropriate when teaching students with multiple disabilities – but only with a competent and experienced teacher and a group of students who are able to understand and manage their behaviour and actions and parents or carers who have given informed consent for the activities. An accident that occurs because of a predictable and avoidable risk when teaching students with multiple disabilities is simply not OK.