As I’m sure you know, school counselors mostly support general education students. As a school psychologist, I can assure you that school counselors can really be a great asset for supporting students with IEP’s as well. Students with disabilities need as much support as possible. Even when students with an IEP do not have counseling services from the school psychologist, they definitely can benefit from supports from the school’s counselor. Here are 5 ways that school counselors can support students with disabilities.
#1 Start by Getting to Know Students with Disabilities
Many schools have special education classrooms. From classrooms that are specific to students with autism, to classrooms that support students with learning disabilities for intellectual disabilities. As a counselor it is great to visit these classrooms and get to know the students end them. You can do this by just being present from time to time and helping the teacher or specific students who are struggling with working indepdently. You can also get to know the students by doing of fun activity with them as a whole class.
Some ideas for whole class activities could include leading a restorative circle, playing a game, or showing a video that can teach them a skill and lead a class discussion. This leads me to my next suggestion…
#2 Provide SEL Lessons on a Regular Basis in Special Education Classrooms
There is no rule saying that school counselors can’t provide SEL to both Gen Ed and special education students. If this is spreading you too thin, then try sending out a video of the week or low-prep activity that both special education and general education teachers can do easily.
As a school psychologist, I often provide my easy SEL video game activities to special day classrooms at my schools. Here are two of the video “game” SEL lessons that are on my YouTube channel and are free for counselors for teachers to use.
#3 Run a Weekly Game Club
This is something that counselors can do to benefit all students that need help with social skills and making friends. I started a game club at one of my middle schools 10 years ago with one of my school counselors. The students really loved it, and it was a great resource for teachers of both general education and special education students to refer students to who were struggling with making friends.
Many students are lonely out on the playground and feel isolated with not knowing how exactly to make even one friend. By providing a game club, you can provide that space for students to meet others, practice social skills through non-physical games (UNO, Jenga, board games, etc.), and have fun.
To start a game club, you do not have to buy games. Yeay! Start out by asking for teacher, parent, or PTO donations of pre-owned games, or even Legos. You can have the game club be in a classroom or the library if you are in colder climates. If you want the game club to be outside, designate an area of the lunch benches or get a few tarps or pre-owned blankets to zone out the spot.
#4 Provide SEL Resources
If you are short on time like I am, then providing SEL activities or resources to Special Education teachers can still be a big help. I’m often providing video links and worksheets to teachers that I can send in emails, especially when asked for specific topic, such as personal space, tattling, or making “good choices”. You can also start an SEL Google Classroom for your entire School where you can post weekly videos, activities, or lessons that are little to no-prep for teachers of both general education and special education students.
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#5 Start a Buddy-Space or “Buddy Bench”
Often students with disabilities struggle with social skills and/or making friends. This might be related to a part of their disability, such as Autism. It might also be related to low self-esteem or poor emotional regulation that keeps peers at a distance. Whatever the reason, it can be helpful to provide students with an opportunity to have a buddy. You can do this by making a “buddy bench” area, or by starting a weekly lunch-bunch where students in leadership (or other students who volunteer) can eat lunch or play with their “buddy” once per week.
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