Photo: Paula Bendfeldt-Diaz All Right Reserved

Every child, without mattering what challenges he might struggle with has strengths, passions and interests.  Many children with special needs, have what are considered fixations.  That is the case with both my children; my 4-year-old is obsessed with trains while my 7-year-old daughter loves animals. Instead of trying to discourage this I do my best to channel those preferences or fixations into learning opportunities because interests and talents can easily develop into careers with a little directions and encouragement.

Encourage Interest, Feed Passions and Foster Hobbies

My little man learned the names of all the Thomas trains long before he learned to walk, most of his day is spent building tracks all over the house and at our local train museum everyone knows us..  When buying train tracks for him I make sure the tracks sets can be build in many different ways leaving room for him to explore and be creative.  At bedtime we read books about trains, which have slowly become more complex and technical so that he can learn the mechanics of how the trains work and what all the train parts are called.  He loves to draw complex train tracks, and uses leggos to build train-planes and other train machines, which he proudly displays in his room.  I have no doubt that I have a future engineer on my hands and I want to do everything I can to help him turn that passion for trains into a career he loves

 

The Benefits of Pretend Play

Pretend plays teaches children to problem solve, build social skills, understand someone else’s perspective, think in the abstract and become more creative.  Pretend play can also help children acquire important life, social and career skills that will help them become independent adults.  This is especially important with children with special needs who will many times face special challenges when entering the work force later on in life.

 

At home we encourage pretend play and always have props and costumes on hand so that my children can explore different roles from playing doctor or fireman to pretending to be different animals.  We also take advantage of these opportunities to join in the fun and turn playtime into life-like situations that they can learn from. One of my daughter’s favorite games is playing restaurant, sometimes she is the server and sometimes she is the chef.  She will help me cook dinner and put the table and take orders from other family members including the dog.  We not only have a lot of fun but she is also learning important skills like cooking and setting the table.

 

Look for Volunteering Opportunities for Your Child

My daughter loves animals.  Her first word was dog, and at two the only thing she wanted to do was go to the Zoo so we went to the zoo almost every weekend.  Now that she is 7 she want to be a veterinarian and her favorite toy is a veterinary kit.  We found a local animal shelter that will let her volunteer accompanied by an adult, so she will be going to volunteer there with her Dad walking dogs and helping with dog and cat socialization this summer.

 

Volunteering will give your child real career experience, increase his social and relationship skills and teach him or her skills that can be easily transferred into employment opportunities. Volunteering will also help your child make friends and contacts, strengthening his ties to the community, broadening his support system and putting him in contact with people who share his interests.  Many people might have negative preconceived ideas about people with special needs or disabilities being valuable employees. When your child volunteers out in the community this will also give you and your child an opportunity to build awareness and educate people about your child’s disability or special need and change perceptions.

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