While academics are important for children in school, for students with severe disabilities social inclusion is just as important. Without assistance in learning social skills the student with multiple handicaps can easily become isolated. In the case of severe behavior problems, the student’s entire family may become isolated. Because of this, social inclusion should be considered as part of a student’s educational plan. For a student that is already in a regular education classroom, there are multiple opportunities for social inclusion. Here are some examples of how to accomplish this for a student that is in a self contained classroom.
Lunch time gives the opportunity to work on many social skills, from sitting and interacting with others to proper table manners. This environment can be used throughout the school years. For a student that needs a limited amount of assistance, a classmate can be asked to sit and help them with things like opening packages. For a child that needs more assistance, the adult should try to balance helping the student with backing off and letting friends help. This is an important opportunity to have peers see the student with multi-handicaps as one of them. Because of this things that are not age appropriate should be avoided. For example, if the student eats pureed food it should not be in a container resembling baby food and cups with tops should not look like a sippy cup for a baby. Instead of using a bib for a student that is a messy eater, towels or extra shirts can be used.
Although clubs often meet after school, their activities usually involve the school. Clubs are available to serve interests and the school. Something like the pep club that often has activities supporting other members of the school would provide a lot of chances for interaction throughout the school year. This gives the student the opportunity to meet kids outside of their class and be part of a group. Ideally, the students in the club would provide any assistance that the student with disabilities would need. If adult assistance is needed, having them act as one of the club sponsors can be less stigmatizing then having them there solely for the student.
Social inclusion can be as simple as attending an assembly or pep rally with peers. During this time the student with multi handicaps will have to show appropriate behavior and interact with those around them in a setting that is outside of the norm. Again, ideally the student with a disability will be paired with a buddy of the same age. If this is not possible, the adult that is providing assistance should do their best not to make the student with disabilities stand out. If noise sometimes causes distress, consider sitting in a location that will provide an easy way to get out should things become disruptive.
Providing Social Skills for Students with Physical Disabilities