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Training atypical kids to transition

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As Gossip Girl said in one of the episodes of my favorite series, “Transitions in life are usually marked by major events like graduations, birthdays and weddings. But the greater transitions often come in the smaller moments.”

But the kind of transition I am referring to is not one that is common to neurotypical people or those who have brains that function in a similar way to most of their peers. Neurotypical individuals develop skills, such as social or organizational skills, at around the same rate as others their age.

Having said that, can you imagine how difficult it is for an atypical adolescent to transition from being a carefree kid to a young individual who is capable of doing chores and learning life skills like cooking, baking, doing crafts and engaging in income-generating activities? To say it is difficult is an understatement. Before I gained education on the different kinds of intervention that can be given to children with special needs, I also thought it impossible for an atypical kid to attend a regular class or learn and harness a skill. I was wrong.

Nathalie mixing ingredients to make the batter using a wire whip.*
Teacher Kirk assisting Nathalie load banana choco chip batter in paper cups in the oven for baking.*

Let me tell you about Nathalie, a twelve-year-old atypical girl who attended a regular classes before enrolling in the Transition Program of Happy Beginner’s School of Learning in Bago City, Negros Occidental. Nathalie is a bit shy but she is very charming and well-mannered. I joined her and Teacher Kirk one morning in the school’s kitchen. She was wearing an apron with small floral prints over her school uniform. In her right hand was a wire whip. She was baking banana chocolate chip muffins. I watched her closely as she followed and executed the instructions of Teacher Kirk – from mixing all the ingredients to make the batter like flour, sugar, eggs and milk. She was calm and receptive at the instructions of her teacher and was careful while performing every task to complete the process.  In between, she would glance at me and smile. I’d throw a few questions at her and she would politely answer. Every now and then, she gets a “Good job, ate!” from her teacher as a form of reward for a job well done and a motivation to keep her going. Complimenting them is very important in increasing their self-esteem and encouraging them to keep on doing better. Studies reveal that when you compliment a child’s performance when they are performing well, children will be more encouraged to participate and to do their best. Children are hungry for good words. 

Aquatherapy is a fun learning activity for students with autism. Well-directed activities in the water help the child gauge his physical boundaries and allows him to regulate the force his body exerts while playing or working on tasks. This activity also helps the child improve his posture and coordination.*

John Dela Torre, school principal said, Nathalie’s confidence improved a lot when she joined the Transition Class of HBSL. “Before she enrolled in our Transition Class, she was very shy and had difficulty in academics. Also, her apprehensions were very evident in her actions. But now, she is able to communicate confidently with minimal help from her teacher. She also can identify different kitchen tools and the specific functions of each,” said Dela Torre.

This is how important a transition program is in special education. This program evolves special learners from education to adult life and community, enabling learners to be involved as they are prepared from daily living skills to occupational guidance.

My active involvement in this advocacy has made me witness how SPED educators carefully assist learners with special needs in practicing life skills like personal hygiene, home skills, interpersonal skills, money skills and time management abilities. In the case of students like Nathalie, they are not only taught and trained to perform life skills, but they are also given the opportunity to go through an internship so that they can practice job skills like doing clerical work and making and designing handicrafts and selling it so that they can generate income.

Joemel Arroyo, a student enrolled in the Transition Program, excels in doing clerical work aside from being good in painting bayong bags. He also loves to sing and earns from making and selling handicrafts.*

“Our transition classes help students prepare for the future, so that they can develop their own livelihood. The program teaches learners specific skills that will be useful in helping atypical learners hone their skills so that they can also support themselves financially,” said Dela Torre.

Students who can join the Transition Class are those aged 10 to 18 years old. According to Dela Torre, Transition Class students are taught how to use their skills to start a business, earn and take care of their income.

In one of my interviews with advocate Dr. Mark Anthony Talatala, developmental and behavioral pediatrician, he said society should recognize that individuals with special needs can function and that they may be able to do well and survive in this world.

“Even the neurotypical children have different skills. This is no different from them. In fact, majority of them (atypical children), will have their own special skills which we should recognize and hone so that they will be able to explore and share their talents to the world too,” added Talatala.

Romela Deñola assisting her son Liam make his own pizza during an exposure trip to a pizza shop.*

Furthermore, he pointed out the critical role of early intervention in being able to maximize the potential of the child. “If we do that, nothing is impossible for them,” he stressed.

For Dr. Maria Carolina Alejano, developmental and behavioral pediatrician, while it is important to equip children with special needs, the necessary knowledge and skills, it is also equally important to help them have abilities.  “The ability not only to be accepted but the ability to be able to work with other people in the society,” she underscored.

This brings me back to the last line of that quote I used in the first paragraph: “But the greater transitions often come in the smaller moments.” And in the case of these children on the spectrum, the greater transitions happen not just in the smaller moments but in moments that are often unnoticed by society because a lot of people still are uneducated therefore, they remain unaware and incapable of recognizing that atypical individuals exist and deserve the same opportunities neurotypicals enjoy. But whether society recognizes them and their efforts in line with  getting ready to transition, the little steps these amazing children take toward being skilled and productive are worth celebrating because these small steps are bold initiatives toward a promising future.*


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September 2023

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