Author: Crawford Dedman
Special Education Consultant

As we venture into the second half of the school year, I have been thinking a lot about the topic of resiliency in students. Resiliency can be defined as the ability to persist in the face of adversity or the ability to bounce back after facing a challenging situation. Helping students develop resiliency skills and attitudes has a positive effect on academic achievement, behavior, and long-term success in life. Often students with special education needs are labeled with such terms as “at-risk” or “high-risk” for academic failure or inappropriate behavior.

Here are some tips to help students with special education needs become resilient:

1. Model a positive attitude. Both parents and teachers need to model positive attitudes and emotions. Students need to hear their parents thinking out loud positively and being determined to persist until a goal is achieved. Using a positive approach to solving problems teaches students a sense of power and promise.

2. Avoid using negative labels, such as “high-risk” or “at-risk.” Switch the focus to high-risk environments or situations that present challenging conditions. Students with special education needs often are told what their deficits are. Instead they need to be reminded that they are capable of achieving great things if they are given the right support.

3. Provide them with examples of role models with exceptionalities that they can learn from. These students need to understand and believe that they can succeed. They need to hear stories and experiences from role models with similar challenges, in order to reinforce the message that they can also reach their goals.

4. View students not as problems to be fixed but as individuals with strengths, dreams, and opinions. Traditionally schools have been places where the focus has been on identification and remediation of their deficits. Schools do need to know where students are struggling and work towards improving their learning. However, need to leverage their strengths, interests and abilities for them to thrive and overcome adverse situations.

5. Students must be actively involved in the life of the school and in their own learning. Resiliency isn’t developed being passive. Students need to connect to the people, the content, and the overall learning environment in order to thrive. This can be a very difficult task for many exceptional students that have challenges with social and communication skills. Use the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) to identify goals and strategies to improve these areas and help the student better connect with peers at school with similar interests.

We cannot protect our children and students against all of life’s ups and downs. However, what we can give them is a feeling of competency and the skills to face challenging circumstances. The more we practice these approaches as parents and educators, the better able our children will be to withstand the challenges of life.