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Special Needs: Quick Assessment

Sally Castle

When a child with special needs first comes into a classroom, quick assessment of a child's needs is probably one of the most difficult things to do, because it involves a limited amount of time and a limited view of the child. Even though it's difficult, there are basic things teachers can assess to help a child with special needs.

1. Create a Special Needs Questionnaire. Have parents complete it to give important behavioral, social, physical, and "nice to know" things about the child. Click here for a sample questionnaire.

File the completed questionnaires in a locked drawer to ensure the child's privacy. Parents need to know that the information on the questionnaire will only be shared with volunteers who minister to their child. Train your volunteers in the principles of privacy and ethics concerning personal information about the child.

2. Train volunteers to assess a special needs child. This process detailed below is not for laypeople to diagnose special needs; rather, it's to assess how to best meet the needs of a child who's already been determined as having special needs. The assessment should include the following.

  • Observe how the child reacts or responds in different situations, such as whole group, small group, or working alone. Your observations will give clues about how to best minister to the child.
  • Look for the child's nonverbal cues. Notice things such as restlessness, body language, facial expressions, or unusual patterns of behavior, such as rocking back and forth.
  • Consider all interactions you have with the child. What's the child saying? What isn't being said that should be? How does the child respond when you say something?
  • What's the child's activity level? Is it appropriate for the activity? Is there high activity, but a very short attention span? Is the child listless?
  • Take all factors into consideration. Realize that you may be wrong in your quick assessment. The child may not be physically active simply because he or she is tired.
  • Ask the child questions about what he or she enjoys and doesn't enjoy doing. What activities does the child prefer? Is the child interested in other adults and children, or does the child prefer being alone?

3. Learn about children's special needs. The Internet is a great source of information, but you can also check with special education teachers and bookstores or libraries in your area.

Love the child as one of God's children. A special needs child needs to know about God's love and caring as much as any other child.


Sally Castle is associate professor of special education at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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