What To Do If You Have Child with a Developmental Delay in a Regular Ed Class

Do you know what to do if you have a child with a developmental delay in your regular education class? How can you help a child that is significantly behind the rest, and still continue teaching the standards that you are responsible for?  You might even have a child placed in your class that has never been in school before for some reason, who appears to have no developmental disabilities at all- it's just that the child has not had an opportunity to learn, and is significantly behind the rest of the class.  With or without an official special education diagnosis or an aide, here are some tips to help you structure your day so that it is fair to every student in the class.

The key to helping any child in the class is knowing what the child needs to work on, and that is especially true of one that is far behind the rest of the class.  You'll feel better about the situation if you can make yourself a short list of goals to work on with the child.  So start by finding out some basics about the child, such as:

Can they recognize (find) their name amongst other similar looking words?
Do they respond to their name when you call it verbally?
Can they write their name?
Do they identify colors?
Can they sort objects by color?
Do they speak clearly?
Can they identify basic school objects in English (or the home language, if you know it) such as desk, paper, crayons, etc.
Can they tell you any shapes?  If not, can he/she point to any shapes if asked to do so?
Do they know any letters at all?  Any letter sounds?

Once you have a basic idea of what the child needs to work on (as opposed to the blanket statement, "He doesn't know ANYTHING!!!" which I realize can be tempting in some situations!) then you can start to think about ways to integrate that instruction into your day without stopping other lessons to do it.  (I'll explain more in a minute.)

If your student has been diagnosed and actually has an aide, you could try some of the following activities with him or her. If not, perhaps you can get some volunteers to help the child with some of these activities when they have a few spare minutes. When I had a child like this in my class, he sat and listened to my lessons, sang songs with us, and participated in class unless I had an extra volunteer that could work with him one on one. When it was his turn to be called on, I would either change the question to one that was within the range of things he was working on, or had him try to repeat back the answer after me.  This worked, because he also had speech issues.

When we did group work, I had alternate worksheets and alternate activities that he could do independently when possible while I worked with the rest of the children.  (I found these in preschool level books at a teacher supply store.)  Sometimes I just wrote the correct answers on the worksheet everyone was doing with a red pen, and had him try to go over it with a pencil or crayon. (I used the red pen to make sure that parents knew that it wasn't his original work, and I also tried to write that at the top of the paper.)  I also pulled him out of playtime at times and tried to work with him one on one then.

I accepted all offers of help, and whenever somebody new came into my classroom, I immediately would pull out a tub with activities and instructions in it that I had ready, and hand it to them. It also had a documentation sheet that asked volunteers to sign in when they helped, write the date, and what they worked on, which I have included here as a free download.

I called this system of helping children on remedial skills and documenting it, "Tutoring Baskets."  At some point in the year, every child eventually had their name on a sheet in the tutoring baskets because I used them for just about every skill!  Examples:

-Writing names
-Sounding Out Words
-Practicing Sight Words

But my little sweetie pie with a delay had some other activities as well, such as:

-Classification types of activities, like putting pictures of clothes together, toys together, etc. This is also a good vocabulary builder.

-A simple puzzle, like putting the number one piece into the number one cut-out might work.

-Inserting pegs into pegboards.  (It's good fine motor practice just to put the pegs into the slots.) I have some peg boards that have numbers on them; the kids are supposed to put three pegs into the one with number three, etc.

-Inserting chips into slots.  (I cut a slot out of the lid of a margarine tub, and the child liked to practice putting them into the slot, which was good for his fine motor skills.) That particular child was better off counting things and putting them into the slot, because that meant that he could not stop to play with them after he counted them. It didn't stop him from playing with the chips before he counted them, though!

-Letter matching with plastic letters (this develops visual perception skills): I found some plastic letters and pulled out the ones for that child’s name. I wrote his name on a large piece of tagboard, and had him match the letters to form his name.

-Matching any other numbers or shapes together also develops visual perception.) He matched a large shape to a small shape, or a red triangle to a blue triangle, etc.

-Name tracing with fat, colored markers and crayons.   My sweetie pie needed his name printed very large- it took up the whole sheet of paper.  I xeroxed a bunch of them to keep on hand.

-Tracing straight and curvy lines:  I just drew some curvy and straight lines on a piece of paper with a thick black marker. Then I xeroxed the paper several times before I gave it to him, and I had him try it every day for a while.  He did his papers when the other children were doing theirs.  He was way off, but got better as the year progressed.

-Cutting straight and curvy line:  He just practiced cutting out those same papers that he also traced- and then we threw them away!

-Working on Vocabulary with Board Books- If you can get your hands on some baby board books with just vocabulary pictures in them, then the child can try to "read" and name the pictures. Sometimes, the most basic emergent readers will also work for this purpose.  For example, the book might be called "Farm Friends" and have just a picture of a goat with the word "Goat" underneath it, etc.

-Bead Stringing with fat beads on a shoelace: My little guy did this with just plain beads and shoelaces that I had on hand, and also with the center that I have pictured below.  (There are shoelaces tied to some thick pieces of cardboard. The cardboard pieces have numbers and dots on them. So the piece with a number 5 on it has five sticker dots. The children are supposed to lace 5 beads on the shoe lace, etc.)

-Unfortunately, my little sweetie pie began to hate the tub with his name sheets and tracing sheets, and would start to cry as soon as he saw it, bless his heart!

How to Work with a Child on Separate Skills While Still Teaching the Rest of the Class

So, how can a teacher possibly give a child like this the attention that he or she needs, while teaching the rest of the class the standards that they need to know?

-Each time you pass out a paper, have him try to trace his name on it.  He can do it on the back of it if necessary.

-As you move along, helping each of the children in turn, just stop and help that child with what HE needs, rather than the assignment that everyone else is working on.

-Each time you ask the child to say something, make an effort to ask him to speak CLEARLY.

-Each time you pass out a paper, have him try to find and color (or highlight) the letters in his name.

-Keep that tub of differentiated work handy!  Pull a different tracing worksheet out when you need to.  Pull out some of the other manipulatives (like color sorting, or putting chips in the slot) for him to work on if they are more appropriate than what the rest of the students are doing.

-When you pull names to have kids answer questions, ask your child with a delay a question that is appropriate to what he is working on.  Give him credit for learning things!  Progress does happen, and kids like this can surprise you. :)

-Find a compassionate peer tutor in the class that might be willing to help the child learn a few of the skills.  Sometimes girls that have younger siblings at home are a good choice!

-Set up a different listening center for that child and let him listen (or watch, with a portable DVD player or computer) some HeidiSongs DVD's to help get those basic skills down.  (See the video clip below from Letters and Sounds Animated DVD.)

-See if there are any funds to get the child an extra copy of that CD or DVD to take home so that learning time may be increased.  Our Colors and Shapes DVD (see below) is a good choice, and so is our Jumpin' Numbers series.  Sometimes children with delays learn quite well through music and movement!  One teacher I know even arranged to have one playing in the special ed van as the children came and went to school each day!

This was my rule of thumb for working with him:  If there is anything that he could learn from the activity that the rest of the class was doing, he should do it with the rest of the children.  If it seemed like a big waste of his time, then I would have him do something else (and especially so if there happened to be a volunteer present and available.)

My little guy with the delay basically stayed with my class and did everything that the others did, but he just scribbled on everything. So I had him sit right next to me, and repeat back to me the things that were on the page that he was working on, as clearly as possible.   When I passed out their worksheets, I usually just reached for his tub instead, and had him do one of his own- unless he WANTED to try the one that the class was doing.  In that case, I generally let him get started, and then would wind up helping him by writing an answer on the page with a red pen and letting him trace it.  If he was happy and seemed to be learning and benefitting from the activity, then I was happy with that.

I must admit that the children did seem puzzled by this child that was so much farther behind the rest of them and couldn't seem to communicate.  My heart went out to him, because it was clear that they did not accept him.  The children got used to the situation eventually, but I had to explain it to them at a time when he was not around.  I tried to persuade them not "to tattle" when he was not completing assignments "correctly."  I also tried to appeal to their sense of compassion and right and wrong, since I caught them often avoiding sitting by him in small groups, and that made me angry!  But I had to again explain to them that what he had was "not contagious," and that their behavior was hurtful.  How would they like it if when they sat down at a table, everyone moved away?  How awful would that be?  Lucky for this little boy, his seemed to be totally unaware of it- and for that I was very grateful.  It was still totally unacceptable to ME, though.  We had to work on learning about and accepting differences that year.

The above activities worked for me  because he was a very compliant child who didn’t really know that he was “different” from the others. Working with a less compliant child is a much different story!   If I ever get it “down,” I’ll be sure to make a post on how I did it!

And by the way- you may be wondering how it all turned out with this little sweetie pie child of mine?  Well, he LEARNED!  Yes indeed, he did.  He learned about 20/26 letters (both upper and lower case,) all of the numbers from 0-10, the colors, and the shapes- and yes, he even learned a few sight words!  He qualified for special education services under due to lack of  language, (as well as I can remember) and then went from my class in Kindergarten to full day special ed class.  But I'm SO GLAD that I didn't just let him "sit there!"


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