Very few companies offer a subscription box for special needs children. And, if they do, it’s usually sensory-based and appropriate primarily for young children. But, special needs children deal with more than sensory issues. Very often, because of their learning challenges, they show a lack of motivation, learned helplessness, and a reluctance to learn, even in a homeschool setting.
How does this happen and how can adapting a subscription box for special needs children help them? First, let’s talk about the underlying issues because that will help us understand how a subscription box can help.
How Lack of Motivation and Learned Helplessness Set In
All children start out very motivated, energetic, curious, and even adventurous. They have an insatiable desire to explore and know their world. We see this in every two year old child. So, what happens to this drive to learn?
Well, what usually happens is that the child repeatedly attempts to do something at which he is unable to succeed. Usually these attempts are prompted by a well-meaning adult anxious to get their kid reading, writing, and doing arithmetic. The adult very often puts the book or worksheet in front of their preschooler or kindergartener and pressures the child to perform. This happens because of misplaced expectations that we should teach little kids to read as young as possible.
Instead, repeated failure disappoints the adult and teaches the child that he is “no good” at reading, writing, or arithmetic. Because he fails every time he tries, he learns that there is no use in even trying. This is called learned helplessness. It is the point at which he stops trying because he expects to fail. He also learns that he is a disappointment to the adult whom he can never please.
Then, he develops a mental block around that skill, resisting attempts to remedy the situation. Now, different children have different mental thresholds. So, one child may need to fail only five times while another won’t give in to helplessness until he tries fifty times. The point is that he learned helplessness. And if he learned helplessness, he can unlearn it, too. And that’s where adapting a subscription box for special needs kids comes in.
How to Adapt Any Subscription Box for Special Needs Children
The Four Step Teaching Model
The four step teaching model is a proven method by which many special needs children are taught. It is how children on the autism spectrum learn to adopt skills for themselves. And, it is very helpful for educating children with ADHD as well. Most importantly, this model helps kids overcome learned helplessness and come to enjoy learning again. It builds confidence and self-esteem while reducing frustration. And, it feels safe, moving at the child’s pace. Here are the four steps.
I do it for you.
In this first step, the parent sits with the child and does the entire task in front of him while he watches. So, if I want to teach my son how to knit, for example, he and I sit together so he can watch me knit. I talk about what I’m doing, the steps I’m taking as I do them, and I do everything more slowly. But, it is very non-threatening. (I’d like to add that it helps if you try this model with a non-academic hobby first. Do not go right to the sore spot. Use it for learning chores, handicrafts, etc. instead)
We do it together.
In this stage, he does some of the steps and I do some of the steps. He doesn’t have to remember everything or do it by himself. I get it started and invite him to do the next step. If he doesn’t remember what to do or how to do it, I tell him. If he starts to feel uncomfortable or unsure and wants me to take over, that’s fine. It’s very relaxed–a no pressure activity we do together.
You try it while I watch.
In this third stage, he tries to do all the steps by himself while I watch him. By this time, he has observed me doing it for quite some time and already had some practice trying it on his own. Sometimes, the child will insist on trying to do it alone, other times, he may need a gentle nudge. The idea is that you are there for support, to help him remember all the steps, and encourage him.
You do it independently.
This is the goal. Independence. This is the point at which you are no longer needed in order to do the task. He is able to do all the steps without any reminders, hints, or other helps. Once a child experiences this stage, his confidence soars and he moves through the stages much faster the next time around.
Using the Four Step Teaching Model to Adapt a Subscription Box for Special Needs Children
All four of my children have special needs: ADHD, Asperger’s, sensory and regulation issues, giftedness, and dyslexia. With my first two, I didn’t know about this model and if I had known about it, I would have used it with my older two. My second daughter easy going and pretty normal in all areas of development except the Asperger’s. So, she didn’t need this model. She still exhibits a quiet confidence and has never been afraid to try anything. My youngest son, however, became frustrated pretty easily. It didn’t take too many failures for him to start growling and tearing up things (papers, furniture, toys, didn’t matter). It got so bad, he wouldn’t try anything and instead, took to following his older brother around. He also chose to do little annoying things like hide my keys or move my shoes.
I had to do something. He was ten years old and avoided trying anything new or going to any new places. He also hesitated to do anything he wasn’t sure he could do perfectly. If I didn’t act, this fear of failure–learned helplessness–would cripple him for life.
But, I didn’t know how to formally organize this approach. Then, I thought about subscription boxes because they include everything. I don’t have time to drive around searching for supplies. And, I wanted him to eventually be able to do the projects independently. The other aspect of subscription boxes that I really like is that the project is well defined. There is a beginning and an end and specific activities you can do. For someone with Aspie tendencies, this is very important. In the past, he had struggled with open-ended supply boxes meant to stimulate creativity. While those worked well for my ADHD kids, they did not work well for the Aspie types in my home.
My son has always loved S.T.E.M projects, so I thought about S.T.E.M subscription boxes first.
Choosing the box
As I reviewed the options, I had some requirements if I was going to successfully use the boxes to implement the four step teaching model.
- The box had to have picture-based instructions that were super clear.
- It had to include all the pieces. No “get this from home.”
- It had to result in a complete project, not a series of experiments.
- A box that included video instruction got extra points!
- No throw away type projects that had no real world value. The completed project had to be a real machine with quality parts. I wanted him to learn real skills that he could apply elsewhere. So, no milk carton, googly-eyed “robot.” No. It better be a real robot, even if it is basic.
- No boxes that relied on owning an iPad or other devices. It had to stand on its own.
- Boxes that would grow with him got extra points!
The winner is…KiwiCo.
This company fit all my requirements and got the extra points. Initially, I subscribed to several boxes and he enjoyed all of them. But, no one else offered video help and continued to offer age-appropriate boxes past 12 years old. Once I had the box, here’s how I adapted it.
Adapting the box
Initially, I built the projects. I told him we were going to start doing some projects together that I thought he would like. He sat with me and watched while I built the machines. I talked through the steps out loud so he could hear my process. And, since we had several different subscriptions at first, we did this almost every week for a few months. After about three months or so, he wanted to give it a try. I would show him where to put the screws and he would screw it in. I would tell him where to attach something and he did it.
After a while of this type of working together, he did more and more of it and started to use the schematics himself. At one point, I sat with him while he watched the video and followed along on the pictorial instructions. And then, I sat with him while he did the entire project himself. He really liked having me there, just sitting quietly, for many months. Finally, he just needed me to be in the room. Now, at age thirteen, he goes off by himself to try his hand creating something inspired by a YouTube video or a book he’s reading. How far he’s come in just three years! He no longer suffers from learned helplessness and his frustration tolerance has gone way up.
Trying this might save you from hundreds of dollars of tutoring and therapy. It’s far more fun and rewarding, too. Click on the link below and save on your subscription to KiwiCo. for ages 2-102.