Creating Helper Children as Natural Supports

By Pelsma, Dennis; Hawes, Deanna et al. | Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Creating Helper Children as Natural Supports


Pelsma, Dennis, Hawes, Deanna, Costello, James, Richard, Michael, Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research


Abstract

The authors propose a program that combines the practices and philosophy of pair counseling, person-centered planning, and accessing natural supports to improve both the self-esteem of students and the personal relationships between children with and without disabilities in an elementary school setting. The program consists of a group experience that includes four pairs of children (four with and four without disabilities) that is facilitated by the school counselor. The primary goal of the program is to supplement the need for professional and paraprofessional intervention by relying more on the supports that are naturally available in the school environment. The program also provides the counselor with an opportunity to interact with special needs students on an ongoing basis.

Creating Helper Children as Natural Supports

In today's school system, children with disabilities are provided education and related services within the regulations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; PL101-476, 1990); and the 1997reauthorization of IDEA (PL105-17, 1997). These laws mandate a wide range of services and supports for individuals with disabilities who attend public schools and are under the age of 21. Children with disabilities are eligible for special education and related services due primarily to their physical limitations, altered intellectual functioning, reduced ability to utilize short-term memory, difficulty in abstract thinking, deficient reasoning skills, or problems in maintaining attention (Henley, Ramsey, & Algozzine, 1993). Children with disabilities have delayed social development and emotional functioning while exhibiting lower levels of self-esteem than their peers (Bowen & Glenn, 1998). They have demonstrated a need for increasing self-esteem, personal security, and a sense of belonging (Herring, 1990).

Since the United States Department of Education identified school counseling and guidance as one of the related services most needed by students with special needs (Bowen & Glenn, 1998), school counselors have become more involved in providing support services for students with disabilities (American School Counselor Association, 1999). A recent study conducted by Milsom (2002) found that approximately 83% of respondents (K-12 school counselors) provided individual and/or small group counseling, 60% provided self-esteem activities, and 50% social skills training to students with disabilities. The results of this study also indicated that school counselors feel more prepared to work with students with disabilities when they have more information about and have more experiences with students with disabilities (Milsom, 2002). Although many practicing school counselors fail to receive adequate preparation to work with students with disabilities (Deck, Scarborough, Sferrazza, & Estill, 1999; Milsom, 2002; Wood Dunn & Baker, 2002), it is clear that gaining more experience with students with disabilities is advantageous for all.

Given the apparent needs for both students with disabilities and school counselors, the primary goal of this article is to present a structured program providing counselors with the opportunity to (a) interact with these students on a regular basis and (b) establish peer helping partnerships designed to improve the social atmosphere for students who previously may have been left out because of their disability. In doing so, counselors are taking a proactive position by expanding their role as advocates for students with disabilities (Baker, 2000).

Social Needs of Children with Disabilities

All children have a need for acceptance, support, encouragement, and direction from their peers. These needs are likely to have special significance for children with disabilities, as often their early school experiences have not been positive in social or academic contexts (Bowen & Glenn, 1998). Consequently, they may feel unsure about themselves and the school environment (Bowen & Glenn, 1998). …

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