By Danielle Berman,
TAP teen from Congregation Ohev Shalom, Wallingford
From the moment I was assigned to work with my special friend I knew that my job wasn’t going to be easy. In early September I started to work at the Mispallelim Hebrew School located at Congregation Ohev Shalom. I work with a girl who is funny, smart, kind, and also happens to be a selective mute. This child doesn’t talk to anyone at Hebrew School but she finds clever other ways to express her emotions and thoughts. For instance this student has a love for puppets and has an entire collection. Also since this child used to speak to everyone, she is good at mouthing words to people. While working with this lovely girl I learned a lot of helpful strategies to use while working with kids who have special needs.
First, I learned that it is crucial to be patient yet firm while working with special needs children. My experiences with TAP definitely prepared me for this reality. Students with special needs often appreciate when people give up their time and energy to help them learn. But at the same time, you walk a fine line between helping the student figure out the answers and doing their work for them. In situations like these the most effective thing to do is to be firm and remind them of your purpose.
Also, a huge part of working with a special needs student is being his or her number one cheerleader. I love seeing students accomplish their goals both in Hebrew school and out, so when they are able to achieve great things all by themselves it is extremely important to ensure that they understand what a huge deal it is. The most important part of your job is to make your student feel good about him or herself and there is nothing more encouraging than to feel accomplished and appreciated. The TAP program really prepared me for working at Mispallelim and I now feel confident about working with special needs students.