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Supporting Kids with Special Needs in Pennsylvania

Photo Courtesy of Beth Roberts, MA

Providing social skills training and behavior management support to children with a variety of special needs has always been my passion.  After attending Mom Congress last April the experience inspired me to begin to develop programs and trainings for educators in public schools to increase a child’s success in inclusion settings.  The training should not just be available for special education professionals and their support staff but for regular education teachers to increase a child’s possible success in the regular education classrooms.  Successful inclusion needs to become a school-wide culture and with an average currently of 1 in 100 children being diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum, the reality of these children being included into mainstream classes increases daily.  Traditionally staff employed by school districts as school aids were hired to assist students with physical handicaps.  The training involved in providing support in that situation compared to providing support for children on the Autism Spectrum or ADHD.

The goal of the training that needs to occur is not to just increase appropriate behavior and compliance of the children with special needs, but to train staff to teach children the skills to positively interact with their peers.  The neuro-typical children then need to be taught what the diagnosis means and how to help and be friends with the children with special needs. I currently run and provide trainings in school districts to develop “Friendship Circles” to create this culture in the school.   These types of social groups promote acceptance of the children with special needs by teaching the neuro-typical children how to comfortably interact with them to increase self-esteem and positive interactional skills.  The students can volunteer to be in these groups or it can be part of a community service project and the students can earn credit towards their community service requirements.

Additional mentoring programs can be established and “buddies” can be instructed on how to help the students with special needs be included in the social culture of the school.  This can be successful at a middle school and high school age to decrease the student with special needs' dependence on aids and support staff.  The mentoring program can be included as course credits in Child Development Classes or similar high school classes.   The students again need to be trained the specific skills to increase positive social interaction in social environments with the students with special needs.

The overall objective is with the increase in diagnosis of children on the Autism Spectrum Disorder, programs need to be implemented to increase these children’s social interaction abilities.  It is not just about academic instruction for these children.  It should include assessment of their executive functioning challenges and implementing social skill instruction programs so these students can not only succeed academically but develop the abilities for forming relationships in the future.

The budgeting cuts in public school education have decreased the funding and grants available for additional programming.  Finding funding for additional programming is becoming more difficult even with the increase in diagnosis.  My goal is to find grants and funding to support this programming, which will increase the services and programming provided from public schools.  The objective is to then decrease the need for outside placement in private schools and services.  Again my goal is to do what it takes prove the advantages to the individual students as well as the overall school culture.

Beth Roberts is honored to be the Pennsylvania Delegate of the 2011 Mom Congress.  This experience has continued to inspire her to expand her work in providing social skills training and behavior management support to children with special needs and their families.   Originally the director of The Wanna Play Program and she is now the director of The Social Enrichment Center. ( Beth has been providing social skills training, parent education and support, professional and teacher training and additional therapies to children with special needs their families and educators for over 10 years.  Her goal is to provide increased training and instruction to not only the parents of the children with special needs but all areas of educators who provide services and work with children with special needs.  Beth is also the parent of two wonderful daughters and began this path by supporting her now 18 year old daughter when she was diagnosed with Autism.