The After School Alliance report entitled America After 3pm shows a sweeping 10 year study that indicates overall participation in afterschool programs (between 3-6pm) has increased by nearly 60%. As part of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 students with special needs are entitled to reasonable accommodations to participate in Out of School Time (OST) programs. Check out these suggestions for a few simple adaptations and/or applications of universal, inclusive afterschool program design:
Benefits of Afterschool Programs for Students with Special Needs
Studies show that students with special needs who participate in after-school activities have:
- Elevated self-esteem
- Enhanced positive behavior
- Improved social competence
- Improved school attendance
- Greater aspirations
Students benefit from quality after-school programs, but for children with special needs it allows additional opportunities to experience meaningful and genuine belonging. It also offers a chance to engage with their non- disabled peers in a non-classroom setting to promote overall social emotional learning.
Inclusion and Afterschool Program Activities
Sports and physical activities are a key component of most out of school groups and programming. The Inclusive PE Starter Pack has key components of sports equipment including a guidebook, bell balls for extra auditory input, spot markers for spatial boundary cues, juggling scarves for easy catching/throwing and much more.
Creative projects can be easily adapted for inclusion. Choose activities that engage basic fine motor skills like the Scratch Art Scratchin’ Shapes Classroom Packs or create pictures using pre-cut adhesive Wonderfoam Shapes. Some standby adapted tools like the Abiligrip to build up a pencil or paintbrush handle for easier grasp, the Slantscript Board to position and stabilize, and adapted scissors are helpful to have on hand for individual student needs.
Music & Sensory Experiences
Matching individual skills and sensory preferences is key to success. Children with hearing impairments and/or severe intellectual disabilities may benefit from “feeling” sound through the Somatron Vibroacoustic Furniture line. These pieces have built in speakers which can be plugged into any 10-200w sound system. Simple rhythm band starter kits are also perfect for early childhood students or hands that need simple tools to hold.
STEAM & Hands-On Projects
It’s possible to make STEAM and other hands-on projects inclusive as well. Add visual cues (words + pictures) for step by step project instructions. Some students may need even more basic visual cues like “First-Then concept” (first measure, cut, draw etc. then cut, glue, assemble etc.). The SchKIDules Magnetic Board provides a template for visual cue headers. then add your own custom images, student names etc.
To help with task transitions and/or from class to afterschool to home consider using a visual timer. Many children with special needs are challenged by reading/understanding analog or digital time. The Sense of Timer set offers quiet, beautiful color options for showing elapsed time from 30 secs to 5 minutes, while the Time Timer uses a clock format and color to illustrate time remaining.
Read More Out of School
Finding the right modifications for individual students in your afterschool program may take some time and effort. However, the benefits for the children and their experiences in afterschool groups are well worth it.
If you’d like to read more from the Out of School category on our blog, be sure to follow the link below.
Leave a comment with any ideas for ways you have modified your afterschool program to make it a welcome place for students with special needs!
Cecilia Cruse, MS, OTR/L has a BS degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Florida, and her Master’s degree in Education from Georgia State University. She is SIPT certified and has over 25 years’ experience in pediatrics with school-based services, acute care, and outpatient pediatric settings.
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