October 8, 2012
For this project I chose to visit and observe a preschool program oriented towards the mentally-impaired child. This small school is near my military installation, although it is not directly associated with it. Most of the families who enroll their children in the school are military personnel, and the director is a military veteran. There are eight 4-and 5-year old children in the group, and each of them has some special difficulty in the emotional or mental realm. The physical environment is a building that has been partially converted into a school. The atmosphere is homey and friendly, and the director is as relaxed as if she were inviting the families, the children, and me over for a friendly chat over coffee. This program is a half-day arrangement, and day care is not provided. The educational and mental health curriculum is intended for enrichment and specific assistance to children and families that have identified some difficulty in their child's behavior or development. Most of the children come through referral from the local mental health center. The instructor carefully screens each family and makes certain requirements for parental involvement in the program. Each parent assists for a few hours each month, partly to keep the tuition costs reasonable, and more importantly to allow the parent to observe the child within the group and to be directly involved in the instruction of the children. The director explains to me that she is working especially diligently with a particular child, Sarah, a 5-year old who has been in this program for two years. She has been evaluated by many specialists, and it has been determined in a rather general way that she is learning disabled, although the exact components of her difficulties have not yet been determined. The child's behavior is unusual in that she treats other children as objects and tends to repeat behaviors in a rigid manner. Her speech is described as echolaic, which is she repeats the last few words of sentences several times out of context. Sarah is gifted musically and can do unusual improvisations on the piano and repeat rather lengthy passages in an imitative way when the teacher works with her one-on-one. The time period chosen is the morning gathering together time right after the children arrive at the school. The usual routine is that the parents drop off the children who come in and pick a quiet toy to play with in the living room until everyone is there. Then the director brings the children together in a group for conversation and a story. The director has mentioned to me that she is focusing on Sarah at this time in an effort to get her to behave less destructively with the other children and toys upon first arriving. Her pattern in the past has been to go straight to the record player, which is her favorite object in the school, and forcefully move aside whoever might be using it before she has a turn. The director tells me that on this particular day it is her goal to assist Sarah in asking a child for the next turn with the record player and to listen during the story, without interrupting with repeated verbal phrases. On the morning of my observation, a mother is working at the school, and the director has told me ahead of time that she has given this parent supervisory responsibilities for the first few minutes of that day so that she can focus on Sarah. I have met this parent who is well-situated and ready to greet the students as they arrive. For purposes of convenience in writing up the observation, only the director, the parent, and Sarah are identified individually, and the other children who speak are simply designated as "child." In this observation I noticed the teacher's style in working with the difficult behavior exhibited by Sarah. The teacher set up the class on that particular day so that her attention could be somewhat free to focus on this one child, and...