Supporting children with additional needs in the mainstream classroom

I’m writing this blogpost as I’ve received countless messages from people on Instagram about how best to support children with additional needs in the mainstream classroom. The questions are usually something like ‘How can I support a child with Autism/ADHD/Dyslexia etc.’ and I think its really important to try to refocus ourselves when we think about how best to support children in our classrooms.

I’ve taught a huge amount of children with additional needs and even though two children have the same diagnosis e.g. ASD they are very unlikely to need the exact same support. What works for one child may be the opposite of what the other child needs most. So what to do? I recently got a few messages about how best to support a child with ASD in Maths. As far as I’m aware this was actually a college assignment and it really made me think. Why was the ASD part important? I’ve worked with some children with ASD who struggle with Maths and some who have unbelievable mathematical ability so I think this is where we should start not with the diagnosis of Autism which may not have any relevance to the child’s mathematical ability or the level of support they require.

Get to know the child

This is the first thing you need to do with every single child in your class. Take time to get to know them, make connections, build a relationship. Observe the child in a variety of different situations. See if you can figure out what triggers certain behaviours (not always possible) but there might be a pattern that you can then put steps in place to support the child.

Separate the child from their diagnosis and their behaviours. A child is first and foremost a child. Of course the diagnosis is important and the recommendations from their reports, their parents and previous teachers need to be taken into account but firstly I think it is vital that we get to know the child and go from there.

Meet with the child’s parents

Parents know their child best so it’s really important to meet with them to discuss their child and how best to support the child in the classroom. Talk about the child’s strengths and the things the child loves/enjoys and then what targets they would love for their child to meet throughout the year. These might be academic but could also include social/emotional targets too.

Talk to previous class teachers/ support teachers/ S.N.A.

Talk to the people who worked with the child previously. Get an idea of what worked for other teachers to best support the child but make sure to spend time getting to know the child yourself too.

Things that can be helpful to use in your classroom

Visual Timetable

A visual timetable is a really good way to share the overview of the day with your class. It makes them feel safe and secure as they know what is coming up next. Personally I don’t use the exact time for each lesson but instead have a before break, after break, after lunch display as I found when using exact time that some children were anxious if I hadn’t moved on to the next subject etc.

I used this visual timetable with the times while teaching in the U.K. – we were focussing on the time so the clocks and digital time worked really well.

Well organised, labelled areas and resources in the classroom

This is great so children know where to find different materials around the classroom. It makes children more independent as they can get what they need when they need it. It’s also really important for children to feel they belong in the classroom – they have a place to put their coats, bags, a place to sit and different areas for different activities throughout the school day.

Concrete materials

These are so important especially for lessons like Maths as they allow the children to use manipulative and increase their understanding of different concepts.

Real life

Link topics with real life so the children can really understand and make links and connections with their own lives.

Link with the interests of the children

Use the children’s interests to make the topics more relevant and interesting to them.

Clear displays

Keep displays clear and calm especially at the top of the classroom/near the whiteboard where the children are facing. Over stimulating classrooms can be very distressing for some children. Every surface doesn’t need a display – it’s ok to have some blank spaces around the classroom.

The below image is my classroom – the area at the top of the classroom is fairly empty with just the handwriting display which

Calm/quiet area

This is an area in your classroom where children can go if they need a few minutes. I know most classrooms are already tight on space so this could be as simple as a table at the back of the room. A child who needs a few minutes break away can take a timer and go to the quiet area. In this area you could have a variety of different resources that the child can choose from. (This is not a time out area where children who need to calm down are sent but the child elects to go there when they feel they need to).

Some items to chose from;

  • Mindful colouring sheets
  • Sensory box (could include items such as bubble wrap, different fabrics, theraputty, beads, fidget toys e.g. spinner,  if this is for 1 particular child then they should be very involved in choosing the items they have in their sensory box)

  • Jigsaw
  • Music (headphones)
  • Books
  • Visual calming strategies/ breathing strategies
  • Visual timer
  • Cushions/Beanbags/Blankets

Movement Breaks

The whole class will benefit from movement/brain breaks throughout the school day. This could be a quick exercise type activity or game. You Tube and Go Noodle are great resources to use for a quick movement break throughout the day.

I also like purposeful messages and use this regularly for certain children where they are asked to go on a message to another teacher in the school to either deliver or collect something. This is brilliant to build up a child’s self esteem (make sure to have an arrangement with the other teacher so they know to take a few moments to talk to the child and thank them for doing a great job etc.)