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Three Unique Ways to Praise a Child With Special Needs

Three Unique Ways to Praise a Child With Special Needs

Praising children, particularly those with special needs, is extremely important for self-esteem as well as in changing behavior. Experience has shown me that punishment is rarely effective in changing behavior. With rising obesity rates, the need for rewards other than food is extremely important.

I teach children with special needs, including autism, and have found that some of the most unusual rewards are the most effective.

Suggestion Number One: Use pictures of the children as rewards. This school year I was fortunate enough to have a color laser printer and digital camera at my disposal. I discovered the student love taking pictures of themselves home. I discovered this by accident. I had some pictures left over from a project and they were so intrigued with them I started sending them home. They liked black and white ones also, but color ones were their favorite. I believe part of the reason this was so successful in my classroom was because many of the children in my classroom were economically disadvantaged and didn’t have a lot of pictures at home.

Suggestion Number Two: Use talking on your cell phone as a reward. One of my students can talk but gets very nervous when I try to get him to talk to me directly. I had tried numerous ways to get him to talk but nothing worked. One day the students were playing with dolls and other housekeeping materials. In the box were several toy phones. This student had one in his hand so I picked one up also and we started to have a conversation. He talked to me! It worked so well I went outside my classroom and called my assistant on her cell phone and asked to speak with him. He loved it!

All of the students wanted to talk to me on the cell phone and got the biggest kick out of hearing my voice on the phone. Many of them have articulation problems and all of them have expressive and receptive language deficits so in addition to being a good reward, it made a good lesson.

When the students did something really well I started calling them from the hallway. It was such an easy reward and it cost nothing because we have the same carrier. I was fortunate enough to have a telephone in my room but talking on it didn’t have the same effect. I think it’s because their parents had cell phones and they wanted to be like them.

Suggestion Number Three: Find out what the child finds rewarding. It might not be what you think. Try to find out what the child finds rewarding. Talk to and observe the child. Do trials with multiple types of rewarding activities. Talk with parents, caregivers and former teachers. What you think a child will find rewarding and what she actually finds rewarding might be two different things. For example, these are some of the more unusual things my students have found rewarding which I would not have thought of myself:

  • Temporary tattoos or drawing a smiley face on the child’s hand with a non-toxic marker
  • Sitting a beanie baby or other stuffed animal on their desk
  • Having their nails painted or their hair done
  • Helping the teacher or assistant clean or do laundry (we have a washer and dryer at school)
  • Bubbles, lotion, rice, sand, water or other sensory experiences
  • Bouncing on a trampoline or swinging in a vestibular swing
  • Play music on a C.D. player or IPod with headphones
  • Being the “teacher” and leading a lesson such as a dance or calendar time

I recommend getting written parent permission for some of the above rewards such as the temporary tattoos, smiley faces written on a hand, and nails or hair done. Putting them into a behavior plan and/or IEP is a good idea.