Hannah has an auditory sensitivity where she covers her ears when the noise becomes too loud for her. Josh has cerebral palsy and limps when he walks and runs. Jordan has a stutter and Lila sits too close to her neighbor, hugs children too hard and keeps touching others without their permission.
I am sure many of us have come across a child in our years of education that possesses some features of Hanna, Josh, Jordan, or Lila. Every year, possibly even more so this year after the pandemic, there are children in our classrooms who need support more than ever. We observe, document, and communicate with our team including administrators, professionals, and most importantly parents, to help support the child in need.
We also come across another challenge: helping the other children in the classroom learn empathy for the child who is struggling. In my course at AJU, EDU 304: Collaborations and Adaptations in Special Needs, my students learn about sensory processing challenges; visual, hearing, and physical impairments; autism; developmental challenges; and more. However, this information doesn’t specifically address how to help children in our care develop empathy for a child who is struggling more than others. Children do not innately understand what to do when another child is different from themselves. It is our responsibility as early childhood educators to foster curiosity, wonder, and empathy in the children we work with. Our Bachelor's students do this work by creating original stories and lesson plans to teach their classes about various abilities and disabilities. My students research and create books and lesson plans about tactile defensiveness, ADHD, speech disorders, dwarfism, autism, and many more. This provides our Bachelor's students with the tools to not only understand various special needs and the skills to assist the child and their family, but also their whole class in supporting the child together as a community.
אֲשֶׁר יָצַר אֶת הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ (Who created humanity in his image)