If you're like me, it's been more times than you can count. Being in the youth development field for over 20 years has taught me to see challenges as opportunities; to see behavior as communication; to put my detective hat on and figure out what it is that children and youth are trying to tell us with their behavior; and to learn what works for a child or youth who has or may have a disability.
To best support youth, we need to know several key categories of information, including the youth's strengths and interests, areas of support, accommodations, and communication supports. We get this information by observing, talking to significant adults in their lives and by having meaningful conversations with the youth themselves.
Strengths and interests: Knowing what children and youth are good at and what they are interested in helps us to tailor supports for them that will be enjoyable and effective. Do they like Legos? Do they enjoy music and movement? Do they take joy in sharing jokes and having leadership roles? Are they excited to lead activities?
Areas of support involves learning about what a youth really needs help with. What are their challenges and struggles? Is it transitions? Engaging with other children? For example: A youth may need help getting started with homework and may also need frequent check-ins. They may also need hourly reminders to use the restroom.
Accommodations are supports that you put in place to help youth be successful, and are based on challenges and needs. Like giving glasses to people who have vision loss, we can provide accommodations that help manage impulses or inattention. For example: Some children and youth may need a visual schedule to show what the day includes, and in what order.
Communication supports are important to help youth understand and engage in positive relationships with others. For youth with significant disabilities, it might mean using an electronic communication device. For youth with ADHD, it is more likely to involve getting their attention before giving instructions, giving those directions directly to them, and checking to make sure they understand. Having simply written instructions will potentially make it easier for children or youth to follow. For some, it might also include visual schedules or choice boards.
This information is a great start when gathering resources to share internally with staff, and when it comes to finding creative and practical ways to support youth using a case-by-case approach to meet their needs.
To learn more or to help support staff in implementing a Case-by-Case Checklist to support youth, keep an eye out for a related TurnKeyPD, available in October 2019.
Viviana H. Saint-Louis is National Education & Training Specialist in the Inclusive Communities division at Kids Included Together (KIT). She has more than 20 years of experience and has served as a program specialist/supervisor, camp counselor, preschool teacher, and camp director overseas supporting military youth and childcare programs. She has been a presenter at numerous youth development organizations nationwide including at the NAA Convention. KIT is proud to be NAA's partner to build inclusive practices in afterschool programs.