The Importance Of Teaching Cooperative Behavior To Special Needs Children

Obtaining social skills and learning cooperative behavior is important for all children. However, it is more challenging to implement social skills and cooperative behavior when it involves special needs children.

These skills should be reinforced and prioritized above academic skills. If social skills are not taught first, they will impact the child’s ability to learn and the learning environment itself. In order to focus on academic tasks a child first needs to possess the important tasks such as turn taking, reciprocal interaction, listening skills which will ultimately allow a child to follow instructions from educators, parents and the public. We need to keep in mind that all special needs children will become special needs adults. Our goal should be to set expectations from early on with the intent of providing special needs kids with the optimum skills necessary so they can function at as independent of a level as feasibly possible for the particular individuals.

I mention the public arena because my personal philosophy is that learning take place in many arenas. It is not limited to the classroom Children learn from every day events such as going to the grocery store, eating in restaurants, going to the zoo and more. Every experience invites opportunities to learn. Even a trip to the play ground hones motor skills and creates an environment ripe for social interactions.

Although all children have snarky moments, children with disabilities can seem uncooperative more so. I use the word seem because what appears to be uncooperative behavior in special needs children may not be intentional. In their case, it can derive from sheer frustration. Simply put, They may lack the words or understanding of their situation to comply. Hence, in their case, the uncooperative behavior is not defiance. It is born from frustration and not possessing the skills needed to perform at the level expected of them.

Example in point…when my son was young he struggled with many fine and gross motor skill issues. He struggled with writing as he did not develop a pincer grip until third grade. He held a pencil in his fist. The teacher had labeled him defiant because he would put his pencil down during a class project.

One evening, he refused to complete his spelling homework and actuall slammed his pencil breaking the lead point. I stopped, observed and asked him WHY he was refusing to do his work. He told me it hurt his hand when he was required to write for to long. By asking the simple WHY question, I received an answer. I looked for a reason behind his behavior rather then judging.

Some reasons special needs children appear defiant can be due to processing issues. In my sons case, he had an Aspergerians typical advanced expressive vocabulary. However, his large vocabulary basically consisted of memorized words, factual information etc. In listening closely one would note that his conversations were often out of context, lacked the ability for small talk ie asking others about the weather, tv shows etc, consisted of factual information such as computers and other self interests. These conversations were basically not reciprocal in nature.

My son’s expressive advanced vocabulary hid his deficits with receptive vocabulary (meaning words he processed from others)

When processing deficits are an issue, it can impede their ability to learn and socialize. Some of the issues that can arise are:

Special needs children may need extended time to process information. If to many instructions are given at one time it can overwhelm them and be resultant in a meltdown, going on strike regarding performing what is requested of them (which was my sons way to shut others out).

When providing instruction to children, providing minimal steps for what is asked of them may help. In my son’s case, we broke down requests into easier steps. We started by asking him to brush his teeth.

We would wait until that step was performed before asking more of him For instance; after teeth were brushed we would then ask him to put on pajamas. After that task was done we would say it was time to go to bed. Etc. We gradually transitioned verbalizing one step to two steps and then three over a long period of time.

Children with learning issues can be provided with written instructions to reinforce the verbal requests given. If the child cannot read, pictures can be used for their list rather then words.

Another issue that may hinder children with receptive language issues or other processing issues are instructions that are vague. It is best to provide simple concrete directions. For instance, rather then saying get ready fro lunch. Rephrase your statement and say Please sit at the table so you can eat your lunch. In this fashion, the child has been provided with steps.

When children are asked to perform a task that is beyond there developmental capacity whether physical or developmental, proper intervention may make all the difference between cooperative behavior and a resultant meltdown that possesses the power of a tsunami.

A child may be asked to make their bed. The child may not have the motor skills to tuck in a top sheet and bedspread. In this case a simple adjustment such as getting rid of the top sheet and providing the child with a comforter that they merely throw over their bed may make a positive difference. If a child gets frustrated because “all the other kids can tie their shoes” provide them with prettied laces or Velcro.

If a child does not understand nor have the coping skills to handle a certain challenge, they quite possibly will act out. By looking underneath the surface, solutions can often be found. I will reiterate they are not being uncooperative intentionally.

Imagine if you were angry, sad, frustrated but did not possess the words to express your feelings. If we stop and look at the situation from this perspective, the reason behind the behavior becomes obvious.

Imagine having sensory issues and lacking the verbal or cognitive skills to explain your dilemma. For these children, a mere tag rubbing on their neck inside their shirt can feel like the equivalent of sandpaper rubbing against wood. Tasting spaghetti sauce may overwhelm their sensitive taste buds akin to an explosion in their mouth.

My suggestions to assist in development of verbal, physical and social skills:

If a child pinches when they are upset, simply say “that hurts”. Providing a substitute rather then pinching initially may work better then merely saying “stop that”. Provide a pinching board. It simply consists of a clothes pin and piece of cardboard. Model how it works.

Merely say you may pinch the paper with this clothes pin but you may not pinch people. It hurts them. Surprisingly I have had great success using this idea. It may take a while to catch on depending on the child’s cognitive level. When it does however, this provides a great substitute.

When a child cannot find the words to express what they are feeling, continuously asking them what the issue is may be resultant in behavioral issues born from the frustration of not possessing descriptors for their problem. A good way to approach this is to model the words they cannot find.

Perhaps, rather then asking the child what is wrong you can state some descriptors for them. This will assist them in identifying feelings an the future. Perhaps you could say, “You must have had a bad day at school. You look like something made you angry today.

For socialization, take into account the fact that group sports may be to overwhelming for them. Bowling is an excellent non threatening choice for special needs kids. It provides socialization with peers. However, the child is basically competing against themselves rather then a large baseball or soccer team. In our case, candle pin bowling was a great way to hone motor skills. Rolling a ball with one hand helps mid-line balance. Focusing on the pins and lining up the ball is great for hand eye coordination.

Using a laptop versus a pencil for children with fine motor skill issues can increase their ability to write and communicate. It may also help them develop the self esteem to become more involved in writing.

Turn taking can be enhanced by games such a Jenga. This game enhances higher order skills through figuring out which block to pull out without causing the Jenga tower to fall. Jenga also encourages turn taking skills as the child needs to wait there turn for others to pull out a block.

As children advance, encourage them to call trusted family friends and relatives on the phone and invite them to your home. As time goes on encourage the child to pick one child from school and call them on the phone as well.

Please remember, your children’s challenges are not your fault. They may meltdown physically or emotionally more so with you because they trust you. They know that no matter how bad their behavior is you will always stand by them.

I am a published author and focus on books pertaining to autism and Aspergers Syndrome. I have had special needs articles published in several magazines. I have been interviewed several times in print, on pod casts, and internet T.V. regarding the autism spectrum. I have presented autism workshops to staff, management teams, and parent groups. I offer tips on curriculum development and behavior modification within the classroom and through in-services. I am certified by the Department of Early Childhood Education as a lead preschool teacher, an infant and toddler teacher, and site coordinator qualified to manage school age programs. I have recently ventured into public speaking engagements to educate both parents and educators on autism and Aspergers Syndrome
I want my experiences and challenges to be used productively as a learning tool for other parents and for educators as well. When my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s a decade ago it was a foreign word among many parents and professionals alike. I fought for help never giving up. Through my books I wish to help parents feel like they do not walk in the dark, that they are not alone, empower them and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I also want to educate society at large on the topic of the autism spectrum. I believe all parties involved need to work as a collaborative team in order to insure a special needs child’s success.If you like my articles, aside from being the parent of an adult with Aspergers Syndrome/ A.D.D and an educational professional, I am also a published author of many special needs and autism related books written to inspire and support parents, families, educators and society at large as well. Please stop by and check out my books on at Mari Nosal : Please stop by my site at Amazon Books and check out my published books on autism aspergers special needs and more


Mari Nosal M.Ed.


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