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Children with Developmental Disabilities Scarlette Benton University of Kentucky




Abstract For this assignment I went and observed a community I have never been a part of. I chose to observe kids with developmental disabilities by volunteering my time at the Child Development Center of the Bluegrass. There I learned so much about the different ways of teaching and disciplining kids who have developmental disabilities. I also learned about the ways in which the teachers there worked hand in hand with different kinds of therapists in order to asses and create goals for the children. I observed how they interacted with their teachers, their fellow classmates as well as their parents.



I think we all know how hard it is to communicate with people when there is a language barrier. Can you imagine if that language barrier was between you and your child and could possibly be permanent? The community I chose to explore was children with disabilities. In 2008 one in six children in the US had a developmental disability (Boyle, C., Boulet, S., Schieve, L., & Cohen, R., 2011). I decided to go to the Child Developmental Center of the Bluegrass (CDCB) because I found that they have an exceptional center not far from campus. I decided to fulfill my observations by becoming a volunteer. While observing this community I learned so much about children with developmental disabilities, their treatment, different ways of teaching them, and their home life. According to the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (2013) (NACDD), developmental disabilities are disabilities that can be short-term and curable or they can be severe and something one has to deal with his/her entire life. They are cognitive and/or physical and often results in difficulty with communication, self-dependency, learning, and mobility. Some stereotypes I had coming into this new community was that the kids all had some kind of obvious, severe mental and/or physical retardation. Before choosing to volunteer at the CDCB, I looked on their website to get a better idea of what they are about. The website said that all of the classes accommodate kids with developmental disabilities as well as kids without any sort of disabilities. One of the first couple of things that came to mind when I heard "developmental disabilities" was that the kids were going to have diseases like down syndrome and autism. The misconception I had was that kids that go to CDCB were very dependent on everyone and could not really do anything for themselves because of their impairments.



Going into this community, I was hoping I was going to be able to observe older kids because I just figured that they would be more interactive and that there would be more to observe. After talking with the director over volunteers, she placed me in the classroom that needed the most help, the Elephant Room. Mrs. Jessica Howard is the lead teacher in the Elephant Room and has two student assistants that help her. When I found out Jessica taught two year olds and that her class was made up of ten boys and two girls, I knew I had my work cut out for me. Upon going to CDCB, I quickly realized that my preconceived ideas about the kids' disabilities were wrong. There are actually only a few kids with severe developmental disabilities while most of the kids have

Mrs. Jessica Howard in front of her Elephant Room.

much less serious impairments. When asked about the range of disabilities in the Elephant room Jessica replied: My most sever case right now is cerebral palsy, and then it ranges down to speech [disabilities]. We work with OT [occupational therapists], PT [physical therapists], and speech therapists here. We have several kids that will get OT and PT, and then I have some whose speech is not as well as others. It’s mostly articulation, like their S’s sound funny and they’re not speaking the right syllables (Jessica, 2013). I figured out exactly what all Jessica was talking about on my first day volunteering. When I walked into her classroom for the first time I noticed the one child with cerebral palsy because he was the only one who had obvious physical characteristics of a child with disabilities. At first, all of the kids were acting shy as I tried to go around and introduce myself to them while they were eating snack. After snack was play time and all of a sudden everyone was my new best friend



and wanted to play with me! Because I was just a volunteer I could not do much so Jessica told me to just play with them and make sure no one got hurt. Another one of the misconceptions I had about this group of two year olds that was proven wrong was that there was a lot to observe despite their disabilities and their age. The kids are very interactive and are pretty independent for their age. I thought it was so cute how quickly they warmed up to me and how they would ask me to read to them or play kitchen with them. The angelic cute two year olds were short-lived. As play time continued it was as if every kid became super hyper all at once. Out of nowhere two boys began bickering over toy cars and it quickly turned violent. Before I could even get over to them, one of the boys had bitten the other boy on the arm. I picked up the injured one and raised his sleeve to see how bad it was and not only were there bight marks, but his skin had already started to bruise and he was bleeding. What happened next completely surprised me. One of the assistant teachers made the biter apologize and then sat him in a chair and gave him three books to choose from while he “calmed down and rested his body”. I personally believe punishment and discipline are the best ways of teaching kids that when they do something bad, there are negative consequences. Then again, this community of kids with developmental disabilities is new to me, and Jessica informed me of how you have to use different techniques for teaching these kids because they are not your typical two year olds. She explained how CDCB has a sort of new standard on how to teach these kids right and wrong. We don’t use the words no, don’t, not, we’d rather give positive reinforcement than negative because kids will feed off of the positive. We give them choices instead of punishing them and saying you know “you need to go sit in time-out”. We don’t believe in that concept. We believe in giving them choices, making them feel empowered, and



feel part of every decision making in the classroom. You will notice that you will have a smoother transition with the kids and a lot easier day, than if you kept telling them no all day. I mean they hear no a lot at home, they don’t need to hear it here too (Jessica, 2013). Everything she said makes sense because a lot of these kids have a hard time communicating and because of this become easily frustrated. There were other little incidents that occurred while I was observing and I realized that one aspect of developmental disabilities I had not even thought of was behavioral issues. CDCB is a lot more than your average daycare. According to their website, they are Stars [Stars for Kids Now] and NAEYC [National Association of Education for Young Children] accredited. They are also a four star center which is the highest number you can get. CDCB also has very small classroom sizes compared to most daycare centers. Lower student to staff ratios create more individualized attention that these kids need. The teachers at CDCB work with a number of therapists hand in hand in the classroom. Jessica told me that some of these children may grow out of their disability while some may continue to need services for the rest of their lives. But that’s what we do, we just assess from year to year. So the kids that I have from August to August are who I work with, and we meet with the therapist every three months to see what the new goals are, and to see if we need to move or work on something else (Jessica, 2013).



Every three months, the assessments taken by the teachers and the therapists are given to the parents so they know the progress their child is making at CDCB. After completing my observations a CDCB, I feel like I can greatly sympathize for all parents who have children with disabilities. All I did while volunteering was play with them

This is a picture of me reading a book about going potty, one of Jessica’s ways of teaching, to one of the girls in the Elephant Room.

and made sure no one got hurt, and that alone was difficult. Jessica explained to me that she has classes for parents who need help potty training their kids. Jessica gives them tips and answers the questions a lot of parents have. “I even get asked question about behavior issues with biting, kicking, screaming, and stuff like that. Parents tend to come to us [teachers] for advice because we went to school for this, this is our background. I’ve got six years in the field,” said Jessica. Although most parents go to her seeking advice, there are a few parents who will not use her advice at home, so she has a hard time teaching their kids at school. For example, we’ve got one and she was bottle fed until she came here, she’s never touched an open cup and she’s going to be three in a few months. So when she first started [here] she wouldn’t drink at all, because it was out of an open cup. She always asked for her bottle and we wouldn’t give it to her so she just quit drinking. She wouldn’t drink fluids at all, all day long, even if we helped her or assisted her. It was hard to get



the parents to understand that this isn’t developmentally appropriate, and that she needs to learn to drink from an open cup (Jessica, 2013). She then went on to explain how she deals with difficult parents by giving them the developmental milestones. We give them those and tell them that when she goes to kindergarten she can’t have a bottle and you know that’s only two years away. She has to learn to drink from an open cup and we’ll start with getting rid of the bottle. Then we’ll go to a sippy-cup. Then we’ll go to an open cup and try and transition her in. But they’ve still been fighting me on it and she’s still getting a bottle [at home]. So, it’s been difficult (Jessica, 2013). Jessica is persistent and believes it is her duty to do her best in the classroom because she cannot control whatever happens at home. Telling parents how to parent their kids is difficult and often times uncomfortable, but it is part of her job. A study was done by the American Orthopsychiatric Association in which they had a total of 880 parents of a child who was moderately to severely developmentally delayed were recruited. I found this scholastic journal to be perfect because the age group of the children in my class matched the average age of the kids whose parents participated in the study, two year olds. A correlation was found between parents with little education and low economic status were the ones who were most stressed, which was measured by the universal Parental Stress Index. The study found that parents with low income and low education were more stressed because having children with disabilities is expensive, and without an education a lot of the parents worked long hours at low paying jobs so that they could support and fulfill the needs of their developmentally slow child. In turn this lead to the child not getting enough parental interaction and occasionally



resulted in their behavior and intellectual issues (Smith, T., Oliver, M., & Innocenti, M, 2001). In the end, when parents are stressed it effects the functioning of not just the child but the family as a whole. I found this very interesting because before volunteering in this community it never crossed my mind how hard it is to parent children with developmental disabilities. Just being in the classroom and watching them (without any real responsibility) stresses me out, I could only imagine how challenging it would be to raise them. As of right now I am continuing to volunteer in the Elephant Room until winter break. I really enjoyed spending my Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays with this special group of two year olds. Being around these kids a lot has made me feel differently about having my own children. When it came to having kids, I have always had this sort of plan that I would marry and have kids at a young age. I was always infatuated with the idea of having cute babies but volunteering at CDCB snapped me into reality. I realized how much more challenging it is to teach, care, and raise kids with developmental disabilities. They need to be constantly stimulated and that requires your undivided attention. The fact that the prevalence statistics are on the rise is also somewhat scary to me because I think we all want healthy babies. I still want to have kids one day, I am just more realistic and I no longer have a “plan”. I also realized volunteering here that I really enjoy working for kids. It may be difficult at times but it is so rewarding seeing them develop and reach their goals. Although the kids were crazy and rambunctious, I absolutely loved volunteering in the Elephant Room. I enjoyed getting to know all of the kids and doing little things to help them reach their personal goals for the year. While observing this community I learned so much about children with developmental disabilities, their treatment, different ways of teaching them, and their home life.





References Boyle, C., Boulet, S., Schieve, L., & Cohen, R. (2011, June 14). Key Findings: Trends in the Prevalence of Developmental Disabilities in U. S. Children, 1997–2008.. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 8, 2013, from Boyle, C., Boulet, S., Schieve, L., & Cohen, R. (2011, June 14). Developmental Disabilities Increasing in US. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 8, 2013, from Smith, T. B., Oliver, M. N., & Innocenti, M. S. (2001). Parenting Stress In Families Of Children With Disabilities. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 71(2), 257-261. Retrieved November 14, 2013, from What Are Developmental Disabilities (n.d.). National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities. Retrieved November 7, 2013, from

Children with Developmental Disabilities  

Scarlett Benton wrote this essay for the Composing Community (Project 2) assignment in CIS 110.