Testimonial from a Special Needs Teacher

Tue 09 Jun
Magic Coat Testimony for NDIS- Why should The Magic Coat be used as a service?
Coming from a mainstream classroom environment for several years and jumping into a small education centre, it was difficult to find a sound balance in learning for students. Often the focus switched from academic skills to behaviour management skills every day. Slight changes in routine would cause severe meltdowns, incidents at recess and lunch would make it difficult for children to function for the rest of the day, communication and understanding was never a strong point in these children’s lives. Some of the students I taught were non-verbal which made situations even more difficult. Trying to find a way to motivate these children to learn and make them feel happy, calm and safe was my main goal as a special education teacher. The children in the centre had some very common goals: finding appropriate ways to problem solve, self regulate and manage their emotions.

After using the standard visuals such as “first and then”, “today I feel”, the 5 level scales, the zones of regulations, I still felt that I really needed to expand more on the children’s deep feelings, perspectives and understandings of the world. I did some research in 2018 and found a new program called The Magic Coat. The program is designed to help create confident, calm and caring children, who know how to problem solve, feel safe and manage their emotions appropriately to help them develop good mental health. With The Magic Coat program originally being designed for mainstream classrooms, I was slightly hesitant to introduce it to my students, unsure if it would be possible to ensure its effective delivery. Nevertheless, I still thought there was some great potential for a special needs environment. I decided I would contact the founder, Di Wilcox. I asked her if she was willing to allow me to adapt her program slightly to allow it to be used it in a special education environment. She was thrilled to hear this and with her blessing, I decided to trial it three times a week with a group of seven children with varying disabilities.

In my classroom, The Magic Coat program was implemented by having the two education assistants, the seven students and myself in a group around a small mat. We began each session by taking some deep breaths and winding down to feel comfortable. The children were allowed to sit on their bottoms or lie on their tummies, but they had to show that they were listening in some way. Eye contact wasn’t necessary, but body positioning was extremely important as they needed to understand how to try and be a part of a small friendship group and recognise that listening is a big part of communication. It was hard at the beginning to adapt to new expectations and to get comfortable; however with persistence and encouragement on a regular basis we mastered our relaxed body positions using yoga mats as our grounding space. We were then able to explore the characters from The Magic Coat book in a different way.

Here are a few samples of the characters from the program and how they were utilised with my students to help them relate not only to themselves but socially with others.

Pocket Full of Starfish and Pop the Cork
Through the Pocket Full of Starfish, the children learnt that Autism presents itself in many different ways, just like the large variety of starfish in the ocean. The starfish remind us that we are all unique and not born the same. This is the reason why some of us speak and some of us don’t speak.

Through the character Pop the Cork the children were taught how to use basic manners and communication skills when we talk to our friends and family by using simple words such as “excuse me”, “thank you”, “no thank you”, “please”, “hi” and “how are you?”. We spent some time exploring children’s different augmentative and alternative communication devices and found the words “excuse me” and “thank you” on them and spoke about how devices are not toys. Pop the Cork helped the children to use their manners. We also learnt different ways of greeting others without talking and picked a visual then acted the visual out such as a fist pump, a hug, a thumbs up and many more.

Tate the Turtle
The children loved the character Tate the Turtle. He is an organised turtle that likes to follow routines, however he is not afraid of change and he is very brave because he tries new things even if they are a bit scary. The children explored the following concepts:
  • Changes in their routines including schedules, time changes, meeting new faces.
  • Trying new things, for example; eating new foods and trying different craft activities with textures such as paint, glue, glitter.
  • Swimming with the flow, regulating and recognising our emotions when there is a change.
  • Try not to compare yourself to others, not making everything a race, it isn’t about winning or finishing first, it’s about going at your own pace and feeling proud of yourself and your achievements.
The Magic Coat program was such a great success in the centre, when some Chinese exchange students attended the mainstream part of the school in Term 3, they were invited to come and join some of The Magic Coat sessions with my students. The children in the centre adapted to thischange in environment really well,  they felt comfortable to have new people around them and they embraced the situation. There was only one child that chose to sit far away and observe instead of joining in, but he was still there in the room. This change in routine would have caused a major issue prior to the work we did using The Magic Coat program, this fact alone, honestly was amazing.

When Di Wilcox recently contacted me to ask if I was willing to write a testimonial about The Magic Coat program to assist it to become a registered NDIS service, I didn’t hesitate. It has been one of the most creative, adaptable and fun ways to try and educate children with neurological disorders to feel safe and calm, to self regulate and to familiarise themselves with inevitable new changes in life.

Amy Ricciardi
Primary Special Education Teacher
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