A good school does not just teach its students facts and figures; it also encourages them to express themselves, to find their own identity through creativity and imagination. This is not just true for mainstream schools. Special education elementary schools also need to recognize the full range of personalities and talents among their students and help them develop into confident individuals.
How special needs elementary schools can encourage self-expression
Elementary schools tend to find it easier to encourage creativity and self-expression, as there is less focus on exams and trying to prepare for a career. Time is needed to play and socialize with other students. This is especially important for children with autism, intellectual disabilities and developmental challenges, as they often struggle with communication and social interaction and need to practice these skills.
The easiest subjects for encouraging individuality and self-expression are the arts. Drawing, painting, music, dance, and drama are all opportunities to create something that expresses their own feelings using their own voice. These do not even have to be delivered as distinct lessons.
Subject areas that help instill self-expression
More academic subjects such as literacy and numeracy may benefit from lessons that are not exclusively about repeating facts or memorizing information but where information is both delivered and assessed in different, sometimes more creative formats. Activities such as a school play or musical can also encourage different forms of expression, both on stage and behind the scenes.
Technology is also a powerful tool for developing individuality and self-expression. It provides an alternative form of communication for children whose speech, reading or writing is less developed and allows people to connect in different ways.
Why self-expression is important in special education elementary schools
There are numerous stereotypes about the capabilities of children at special education schools. Many people make negative assumptions that can create a stigma and damage the child’s self-esteem. Encouraging self-expression is a way to counteract this.
Happy & confident attitude
It allows the child to discover their own strengths and build confidence in themselves. This means that by the time they leave school, they will be secure in their own identity, regardless of the additional challenges they are likely to face. They will be better able to self-advocate – an essential skill if they want to live independently – and will have improved chances of finding a job and building a network of friends. In general, it means they will be happier.
Strengthened personal relationship
Instilling individuality and self-expression also benefits family, friends and teachers. Allowing self-expression can prevent fatigue from masking in order to appease others. Personal relationships will be more secure if they are based on a more authentic expression of self. Every child with autism or cognitive impairment is unique, and to provide the most appropriate support, teachers need to recognize and encourage the individuality of their students. Not all interventions work for everyone.
It is essential that special needs elementary schools recognize the individuality of their students. Each will have their own strengths and weaknesses, but these cannot be discovered without allowing them the chance to express themselves properly. Fostering individuality & self-expression allows students to develop into more confident adults, secure in their own abilities and identity, and equipped to deal with any challenges they face from the neurotypical world.