The Three Competencies (page 2)
In addition to the evolution of the self-concept based on our growing understanding and increased perceptions of ourselves and the world around us, our self-concept is also influenced by our perceptions of self-competence in three specific areas: cognitive (academic/school/career), physical (athletic/artistic), and social (peer groups) domains (see Figure 13.1).
Self-Esteem Based on Cognitive/Achievement Performance
Children can measure their success relative to their peers in several different areas. For children in special education, learning and achievement can be two areas that cause significant frustration and challenge. These children may work very hard to master tasks, but their efforts may not result in success for many reasons, such as poor memory, processing problems, or difficulties in problem solving. Some children may feel dumb and may begin to avoid academic work because of the frustration and their lack of success. For many children, small group work centers or resource room assistance can provide a safer environment and a slower pace, allowing them to attempt and acquire new skills.
Children should always be praised for their efforts, and tasks should be presented at levels that are neither too challenging nor too easy. Challenges that are too steep will frustrate a child, who may then develop feelings of helplessness about future efforts to master tasks. Tasks that are too easy may provide a sense of false competence and not prepare a child to take on greater challenges. Breaking down complex tasks into smaller segments can help a child to master more difficult tasks in stages that build on earlier successes.
A number of children who receive special education assistance may have a recognizable physical disability (such as a vision, hearing, or orthopedic problem). These children obtain accommodations for their disability in ways that will enhance their ability to learn (for example, wearing glasses or a hearing aid, or using crutches or a wheelchair). However, children with less obvious disabilities (such as ADHD, learning disabilities, or emotional disturbance) may be misunderstood by their teachers, parents, or peers, who may believe that these children are not achieving adequately because of a lack of effort. Such children may be described as lazy or unmotivated or not caring about school. For these children, it is important to praise their efforts and to understand that having a learning problem is a significant burden that they must carry with them throughout their academic years. The more that parents and teachers understand exactly where the child's disability lies, the more they can help the child cope academically and develop a healthy self-concept based on success in areas other than academics.
Self-Esteem Based on Physical Competencies
Although competence in academic areas might be evaluated by our actual achievement in certain subject areas, our competence in physical pursuits may be a function of our athletic abilities, or fine motor skills. These different areas of mastery can assist children in discovering an area other than academics that they can excel in and increase their self-concept, as a result. As the next box discusses, often parents will remove children from extracurricular activities because of their lack of academic success. However, children who are receiving special education assistance have been determined eligible for special services because of a legitimate learning problem that falls within one of the major categories recognized by IDEA.
Did You Know
When children are having academic difficulties, many parents feel that the first thing to go should be extracurricular activities. They reason that because Johnny is failing his spelling tests, he should lose the privilege of playing on the baseball team. However, for many children, not passing spelling tests may be a legitimate result of their learning disability. For some of these children with learning disabilities, athletics may be the only area in which they are capable of excelling. If these children lose the activities, they also lose the opportunity to feel successful compared with their peers.
For children with disabilities, developing a healthy self-concept will often require stretching outside the academic system to include activities that can increase self-confidence and feelings of success. It is important to find opportunities in the community that are available for these children because involvement in these activities might contribute to the development of potential competence and skills, in areas such as sports, art, dance, theater, music, agricultural or horticultural groups, gymnastics, baton, and so on.
Having addressed the need to expand rather than restrict extracurricular activities for children in special education, it is also important to realize that there is a limit to the number of extracurricular activities that should be scheduled. Recently, there has been increased recognition that some parents over-schedule their children in far too many activities, which can increase stress for many family members. We are not advocating this situation by any means; we simply want to impress upon readers that extracurricular activities can be a very important component in building self-esteem for children in special education.
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