special needs?


If I’m to be completely honest with all of you, I’ve never worked with children who have special needs.  I’ve never taken classes on how to work with children who have special needs and I have never worked at a school where there were special needs children enrolled.  It’s not because I have anything against children with special needs, it’s just that the opportunity has never presented itself (and I’ve never gone out of my way to look for that opportunity).

But now, I feel things have changed – I think.

Last Monday I got a new boy in my class – let’s call him Jumpy.  At first I was annoyed – every spring (well, it’s almost) I get at least 2 new students who have never been enrolled in school before and whose parents expect to be ready for Kindergarten with just a few months of school.  After the annoyance passed, I became optimistic – after all, I hadn’t even met the child or his family and it could be great!  So I went into work Monday expecting the best.  His mother (later I found out it was his grandmother whom he lives with) didn’t give me much information as she was in a hurry to leave – just that he is “very smart” and that he already knows “all his colors, shapes, letters, and numbers” and should have “no problems” entering into a class of 19 other children because he’s already been in “a small home daycare”.  Okay, I thought, sounds great!

However, by Friday (well actually way before Friday), we realized that he shows a lot of atypical behavior.  And not only have we observed this but many other teachers have as well.  Academically, he is behind where he should be – so much for his being “very smart”.  But that’s not where my concern lies.  When we do group activities, he curls up in a ball (the majority of the time) and covers his ears.  This can include music, dancing, flag salute, games (quiet and not so quite games), story time, etc.  When we ask him to go find his spot on the carpet, he runs to the nearest corner, curls up in a ball, covers his ears, and screams.  I have no idea why.  He also hides a lot when we are doing something he doesn’t want to do or he is asked to do something he doesn’t like.  He hides under chairs, tables, easels, cupboards – anywhere he can fit.

It also seems like he always needs to be touching someone/something, making noise, and moving around.  Don’t get me wrong, he isn’t ADD or ADHD – he can sit and focus if he chooses to – he just doesn’t choose to do it very often.  I’ve had to move all the children away from him who sit near him because he won’t leave them alone and is causing them to be very distracted!  I feel bad for him because I seriously think at times he doesn’t understand what we are asking him to do!

Jumpy also needs everything to be in order.  If we ask him to come with us and he see’s something on the ground or something on a table (for example a glue bottle that has fallen over) he won’t come with us until he straightens up what he perceives to be out of place.  I like neat children – but at times this gets a little out of hand!

He also can’t follow a line (or really stand in a line for that matter) so we’ve had to give him a buddy whose hand he holds anytime we leave the classroom.  He doesn’t seem to mind this, and the children I’ve had all year think this is a very special job – so they don’t mind either!

He plays with the other children (as opposed to still doing parallel play) but he tends to be aggressive and doesn’t seem to understand the boundaries and rules the children have set up within their games.  And he can become overly attached to certain kids and then won’t let others play with them or gets extremely agitated when they do – which can lead to more aggression.

So I’m not sure what to do.  Jumpy is a sweet boy – but we can tell he has issues.  Maybe we’re reading too much into his behavior and he isn’t special needs?  But I can’t help but think that in my 8 years of teaching I’ve never come across a child with all of these behaviors.  And this is just the beginning of what we’ve seen.  The grandmother doesn’t seem aware (or willing to disclose) if anything is special about him – but we’re under the impression that there has to be a reason for all of these behaviors.

Any advice would be welcome – thanks!  🙂


About deepbluetide

I am a pre-kindergarten teacher at a private christian school. I work mornings with 4 year olds (most of whom enter my class in July still being 3 - they're babies!) and then in the afternoon work "daycare" - which is basically my own class combined with 5 year old children. One things for sure - it's never dull! I had no idea growing up I would be teaching pre-k today! It took me totally off guard - but in the end I wouldn't change a thing! I have worked with children whose age range is 6 weeks through 12 years. In the end I have decided that my current age group is my favorite! And in case you were wondering - all names mentioned are changed to protect the identities of those involved. Enjoy!

7 responses »

  1. Sound almost like autistic behavior but I am DEFINITELY no expert and would never recommend myself or anyone else for that matter to try and diagnose this behavior without serious observation and conversations with the grandmother. Try and see if you can get grandmother to give you the name of the home daycare provider or at least describe more of his experience in home daycare. Perhaps he just doesn’t have any experience in a true educational environment and it is all a bit overwhelming. Poor kid – be patient and do some more investigating. Does noise seem to spark much of his curling up! There was a little boy in one of our classes who does that when there is too much noise and he is truly diagnosed with autism. That is only why I wonder… Really, you should seek out some assistance from professionals in your area if the behavior continues and try to open the doors to communication with grandma. Grandma might be afraid so reassure her that you want to help but need her to be a partner in the process.

  2. I am with Deborah. It sounds like autistic behavior. Maybe Aspergers Syndrome (which is one of the lowest forms of austism). Just like Deborah, I wouldn’t diagnose him of course. I have a student in my pre-k class that is being tested for Aspergers. When I found this out I did some research on autism. The things you say about him needing things to be orderly, problems playing with other children and understanding what is socially appropriate at that time, not liking loud noises, and only focusing on what he wants to are all autistism symptoms. The most helpful thing I have learned is to use visual cues. Austistic students are very visual. You can make a picture schedule to show him what happens next. Show him a picture of how he needs to be sitting at group time and maybe hold it up quietly to remind him he needs to sit the correct way. There is a lot of information online about Autism. Here is the link to the Autism Association.
    I hope it gets better!

  3. I recommend the books “The Out of Sync Child,” and “The Out of Sync Child Has Fun.” At the very least, it sounds as though this child has some sensory processing issues. While he may also be somewhere on the Autistic spectrum, it’s fairly unlikely that he would be diagnosed with anything specifically at this age, especially since you say he can play with other children and so on, (which would indicate a high level of functioning, by diagnostic standards.) These books might give you a starting point, as to why the child does certain things, and how you might address them.
    Diagnoses are mainly helpful in that they can help you know what to expect, and point you toward a body of appropriate information. UIltimately, even with a diagnoses, it’s still all about figuring out how to manage particular issues on an as needed basis.

  4. While it could be Aspergers, I wouldn’t rule out some kind of emotional issue, totally unrelated any form of Autism. So many times we list anything non-typical under the title of Autism.

    My first thoughts are actually FAS or prenatal drug abuse. Especially with the aggression you mention.

    What lead to his living with his grandmother?

    How is his speech? Is he able to communicate his needs to others?

    When you say sometimes you don’t think he understands what you are asking of him: can he follow say……….2-3 step directions? Can he repeat the directions back to you?

    I also don’t think a home day care situation and an educational setting are one and the same. This could be the first time this child has ever been asked to be a participating member of a group.

    When visiting with Grandma, I wouldn’t mention anything specific. I’d simply tell her that you need her help in finding the best way to teach her grandson. I know in my state that any mention of a possible diagnosis could land a teacher is some pretty hot water.

  5. I graduated last year with a degree in early childhood special ed last year but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m an expert! It also sounds like a form of autism spectrum disorder to me. It won’t be full autism because that has to be diagnosed before age 3 so it probably is more like Asperger’s or Pervasive Developmental Disorder. Although I would still give Jumper some more time to adjust to the surroundings. I agree with the schedule idea that he can carry around – you can put it on a ring or in a folder. A lot of kids like it when they can manipulate it either flipping the schedule on a ring or moving pieces along a velcro strip. I would also maybe try to give him something to keep his hands busy during group time so that he won’t disturb the other kids. I’ve seen people use koosh balls or a small piece of silly putty. This can be hard because sometimes other children will wonder and ask why he has “toys.” I just present it as every child has different needs, etc. Good luck! I would definitely reach out to any professionals who can help you put some classroom supports in place.

  6. Another great tool are social stories. Decide on a behavior that you want child to accomplish, and write internal dialogue that you want the child to say to themself. Have the child act out the behaviors while you take photos. Then make a laminated book that you can read to Jumpy when he’s had a tough day. A possible story:

    I have lots of friends in school. (Include pictures of other students and teachers)
    My friends like playing with me, and I like playing with them. (pictures of Jumpy playing with other kids.)
    Sometimes, my friends want to leave what we are playing and do something else. (Child is walking away while Jumpy is making a sad face.)
    This makes me feel ___________. I do not want my friend to go. (Jumpy making a sad face.)
    I may scream, hit, throw things etc. when my friend tries to leave. (Maybe having Jumpy throw a teddy bear on the floor or something safe–you get the idea)
    This is not okay. This hurts my friends and make them feel bad.
    If I hit my friends, they won’t want to play with me anymore.
    When I feel ________, I can take a break.
    I can go to my quiet spot and blow my tears away.
    When I am ready to join the class, I can signal to teacher.

    I’m not a Special Ed teacher, so the language and details might not be quite right, but you get the idea. One or two sentences per page, several photographs of Jumpy acting out the sentences per page. Laminate it. Read it with Jumpy. Repeatedly. Daily if you have to. Keep the book by time out. Read it to him to help him process when he’s acted out, and what you’d like him to do instead.

  7. It does seem your little guy has some “spectrum-y” behaviors. Difficulty with visual motor skills such as staying in a line, awareness of his body in space and in relation to others is very typical for these little guys. The sensory defensiveness is also a huge indicator that something is going on. My guess is that covering his ears and curling up is his way to try and get himself some relief from all the sensory information that is overwhelming him. I would suggest have a calming area for him to use when he feels completely overwhelmed. This can be as simple as a little pop up tent or bean bag chair with some koosh balls, a mini lava lamp, etc that he can go to when he needs to re-center himself. The hiding behavior does need to be addressed because he has to learn that sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do, however, this is easier said than done. If he is hiding because you are asking him to do a sensory activity-sand, glue, shaving cream, paint, etc and he doesn’t like to get his hands dirty, offer him the option to wear gloves. If it is not a sensory issue, then try a first-then system. Use simple pictures or clip art to show what he needs to do first and then follow it up with an activity that he likes to do. As he gets the hang of this, you can have him do two things before earning the preferred activity. In regards to the excessive cleaning up, that again strikes me as a behavior typical of students on the autism spectrum. I handle this differently with different kids-some of them I let finish cleaning up because I know they will not be able to move on mentally until they get it done, and others I help clean up to speed up the process. As time moves on, he can be taught to relax in this area a little, but this is the least of issues at the moment. Finally, the fact that he knows all his letters, shapes, colors, numbers, etc but is unable to follow directions indicates that he has some processing issues (again, typical of kiddos on the spectrum). He probably doesn’t understand what you are asking him to do, so the best thing you can do is be as patient as possible with him and walk him through it. children on the spectrum are visual learners, so they will remember what they do or see you do more than what you say. His aggressiveness with the other children is not intentional-it is the difficulty in relating to others that is yet another hallmark of spectrum disorders. It is a great sign that he wants to interact with the other children-so now he has to learn the right way to interact. Encourage the students to help him learn how to interact appropriately too. For example, if Jumpy snatches something from another child, it is totally okay for that child tell jumpy in a nice way that you have to ask to take a turn-not just snatch something. I would also consider talking with grandma about your concerns. I am sure he does the same behaviors at home to some degree, but grandma may not think there is anything wrong because he does have the pre-academic knowledge. He definitely needs to be evaluated by the area school district for special education services ASAP. If he is found eligible for services, there are preschool programs and therapies that are provided free for him through the local schools under IDEA. I hope this helps. Feel free to contact me if you have other questions!

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