Friday, August 17, 2007

How to Shadow a Special Needs Child in a Typical Preschool Classroom

This is not by any means a definitive guide, but rather what I have come up with over the last few days. I will post the rest of the Disney stuff eventually, but this has been taking up all my time. Feedback is most welcome.


A typical preschool is probably the best place for our special needs child to model the behaviors of typical peers. However, your help is a critical part of D's ultimate success. Your job as a shadow will be demanding, and we have tremendous respect for that. You will need to be able to pretend to be a peer and pretend to be a classroom assistant at times. You will also need to incorporate the techniques used by D's various therapists and other specialists we are working with.

Background Information

D. has Sotos syndrome, a genetic condition causing physical overgrowth during the first years of life. Ironically, this rapid physical development is often accompanied by delayed motor, cognitive and social development. Muscle tone is low, and speech is markedly impaired.

Children with Sotos syndrome are often taller, heavier, and have larger heads than their peers. A child who looks older and acts younger than his/her peer group is at risk for poor self-esteem, strained peer and family relationships, and problems in school. Fortunately, in late childhood the gap begins to close. Muscle tone improves steadily and with it comes better speech. For many individuals, Sotos syndrome simply alters developmental timing; despite early trends, the adult with Sotos syndrome is likely to be within the normal range of height and intellect. We have a brief handbook on Sotos syndrome that you should at least skim – it has a lot of useful information.

We have spent the last few months conducting many assessments of D's abilities.

• He is behind his peers in language and communication skills.

• His social skills are a major area of concern right now. His friendships are limited, and he has difficulty playing cooperatively with peers. This is in part because of his language delays; he is not able to communicate with his peers effectively.

• D’s gross and fine motor skills are very good, although he does suffer from low muscle tone (hypotonia), and so he sometimes tires out physically.

• D. also has some sensory processing difficulties, including difficulty in orienting himself in space (proprioception). You may at times see him lie down on the floor with a toy (generally a car or truck). He likes to get input from the truck; lying down helps him orient himself better. It’s OK to let him use this as a self-soothing technique, but it should not replace social interaction with peers.

• We have spent the last few weeks in intensive toilet training. D. will generally not tell you that he needs the bathroom – he’ll simply go there. But he does sometimes need help aiming, and he definitely needs help to clean himself afterwards.

Despite his delays, we believe that with hard work and cooperation, D. can succeed – and even thrive – in a typical classroom.

Your role as D's shadow

The role of shadow aide is not an easy job. If we only wanted you to make D. behave, sit quietly in class, and complete all his school activities, then you would likely be done in two weeks or a month. A critical part of your role in the classroom is to set up and facilitate social interactions between D. and his peers.

• Downplay D's differences while emphasizing his similarities with the other children. If D. lies down on the floor with a truck, say something like, “Oh, sometimes he gets really tired from playing and he needs some quiet time. Do you ever need quiet time?”

• Tell the other children that D. didn’t learn to talk as early as they did, but he is learning now, and he needs his friends to help him out!

• Help D. interact with his peers. Prompt him as much as necessary to make the interaction successful, and always choose to have D. speak with prompts rather than to speak for him. If a peer approaches and says, “What are you doing?” Repeat the question: D, what are you doing? Say, ‘I’m playing with the truck.” He’ll repeat that. Go from there. (Later, the goal is to prompt with fewer words: “Say, I’m playing…” and he’ll say, “I’m playing with the truck.” But that’s later.)

• D. depends on routine. He may have a difficult time the first few days of school until he knows and understands the routine. Once it is familiar to him, he should be much more able to participate.

• Transitions are very difficult for D.. When you hear the teacher announce to the class, “In five minutes, we’re going to put away the toys and come to circle time,” you must then rephrase and repeat directly to D.: "D, in five minutes, it will be time to put toys away. In five minutes we will be all done toys and it will be time to sit in circle.”

• A visual schedule may be a useful tool. You can point out to D. specific activities. “Now we are cleaning up. Next we will wash hands for snack.”

• You must take a firm attitude with D. Don’t make exceptions for him that aren’t made for other children. If the other children are expected to sit in circle time, then D. must, too. You can tell him, “I know you like playing with the trucks, and now it is time to stop. Now we are sitting in circle. D. will sit in circle.”

• Short, consistent phrases are key. We say things like, “(Whatever) is not a choice right now. Not a choice. Now we are (whatever).” Also, with an upbeat attitude and a big smile, say things like, “I’ll count three, and then we’ll go to circle. Ready? 1, 2, 3! Let’s go to circle!”

• Consistency and followup are CRITICAL. If you tell D. that you are counting three and going to circle, he must go to circle after you count three. That means, even if you have to pick him up, drag him to circle, and hold his thrashing body there, you have to do it. He will learn very quickly that his tantrums don’t get him anywhere, and he will stop. On the other hand, if you give in to his tantrums, he will instantly peg you as a sucker and he will tantrum every time he doesn’t get his way.

Ideally, if D. is in the classroom, he will at least be able to go through the motions with the other kids. If he is disrupting the class beyond an acceptable point, however, there must of course be changes. If we have moved past the point of a typical tantrum into truly disruptive behavior, then D. should be removed from the situation to calm himself with help. He should NOT be rewarded in any way for leaving the classroom. It should be clear that leaving is a punishment, and you can tell him, “You need to (whatever), or you will have to leave.” It may take a few attempts, but he will get it, and he will respond.

During the first week of school, make sure you have a notebook handy. You will want to observe D. and record everything: behaviors, actions, verbatim language, interactions, etc. Also, observe the typical children, record what is typical behavior, typical social interaction, typical verbal and non-verbal communication. Notice the outgoing and shy children, and record what you see.

Once you have a sense of what D's peers can do, we can work on a plan to get D. to that level.

Goals and Objectives

By the end of November, three months into the school year, our goal is for D. to participate in the program. In other words, we want him to come to circle time, play time, and other activities along with the rest of the class, and we want him not to disrupt the class. This may mean that he sits on your lap or just in front of you at circle time, and that you are by his side all the time during activities. That’s fine. We would also like it if he were able to answer occasional questions in circle time, even if those questions are specifically picked and drilled ahead of time.

How do we get there from here? Let’s take a look at some shorter-term goals.

By the end of the first two weeks, our goal is for D. to separate appropriately and enter the classroom with minimal drama/trauma and get through the four hours of the day, even if he is not fully participating. That doesn’t mean you should be letting him get away with not participating, but rather, start smaller. If he sits in circle time for two minutes but then leaves, redirect him back to the circle, even if you have to kind of restrain him to get him to sit. If he’s too disruptive to the rest of the class, then remove him from the room, but get him back in as soon as possible.

By the end of the first month, we want D. to be able to participate in the day at "going through the motions" level -- sitting in circle time, doing what the rest of the class is doing, but not really necessarily participating. The key is that by this point, we want him to not disrupt class and not to need to be removed from the classroom.
Our social goal by the end of the first month is for D. to choose parallel play with peers over playing alone. We can also begin working towards guided interactive play with peers.


Still just me said...

This is wonderful. I wish I had something like this for the child I will be assisting starting Monday. I still haven't met her, and all I know about her is her name.

You are helping D in more ways than one by this article. I hope you give it to his shadow.

Anonymous said...

Good work - very detailed - good luck - Maggie

Anonymous said...

This is excellent...I think you should share this with the Sotos support group site - best wishes...Natalie

Emily said...

Awesome. I'm absolutely sure you took a lot of time out of your schedule to write this program. And, it's wonderful. If only every parent could be this attentive and care this much about their special needs child....what a difference it would make.

Best of luck for the new transition to school. I think it's wonderful, and with any good aide, it should go well. Maybe she could stay with him awhile too!

Can't wait to see how it goes!

Ani Od Chai said...

WG, this is a wonderful guide. I'm sure you are confident in your shadow's ability to follow it - she seems like a very capable young woman. I still think you will see great things from D. It might take him a little while to catch up, but he is definitely getting there. I was so proud of him when he was here Shabbos morning. He is just such a little mench. It is your love and patience that's doing it!

Anonymous said...

Great information!

Unknown said...

Great Job! I like how you pointed out the short term and long term goals, because trying to do all of this at once may seem a little daunting. Explaining your final expectations and your expectations over time is fabulous! I agree with Emily - it would be awesome if every parent could explain their situation and expectations this clearly.

moplans said...

I copied this from the Sotos group. you linked to it there right?
It is fantastic.

Anonymous said...

I think you did a great job!. How can you find a shadow? I need one for my 4yrs old boy with autism, but it's making very difficult to find one.

I appreciate you can reply to me @

Ts Mommy said...

Wow! This is amazing! I'm being told that I must have a shadow for my 3yr old with autism. I would love to use this as a guide for hiring people and goals and objectives too! Is that okay with you??

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful. I worked in a special education class for twelve years. Keep up.

Gi said...

Hello, what you wrote is great, I've been working as a shadow teacher with a legally blind child for two years now, it's a very rewarding job, I would like to get in touch with other shadow teachers to share ideas, so if you are a shadow teacher please write to me to

Audy said...

I am considering this type of job, but wonder what the hourly rate of pay is

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Unknown said...

Hello. I am the aide for a wonderful little boy who has soto's. I would love to ask you a few email is

your writings says so much of what I have been saying to the school at which I work-I do not say it so eloquently.
Thank you.