To teach a special needs child, learn their likes, dislikes

What would it be like if a proficient VW engineer was asked to work on a Porsche? While one may say both are sophisticated cars so there is no difference, you want to appreciate the fact that these are two different cars and the VW engineer may want to steer clear of the Porsche.

This scenario played into Maria Nakabonge’s life who, although a trained teacher, was called upon to tutor a child with special needs. Fronted by a mutual friend, she was yet to see a new dimension to her career with all its joys and pains yet rather than shy away, she took the bull by the horns. From September 2019, Nakabonge started a journey only the brave can take.

Her journey started when the parents of an autistic child contacted her asking her to be their child’s full-time teacher. Her duties mainly comprised supervising and helping him understand concepts of different subjects in case he got stuck while studying.

“My student was undertaking the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum, which was new for me thus presenting a whole new experience. However, I had to adapt very fast by undertaking a course after which I obtained a certificate,” she says.

Better equipped with the curriculum, Nakabonge was able to teach her student. However, she says, it is not easy working with autistic children, especially when you have no clue about their behaviour. “If you do not know what they need, you will get stressed. That was my experience when we started out, ignorant about what to do yet wanted to keep my job. Therefore, I went back to my school notes, researched on the Internet as well and before long, I was up to speed with what I needed to do,” she says.

However, covid-19 hit and schools were closed, which forced Nakabonge to resort to online teaching using a kindle device. The new normal was quite challenging but she says God made a way until the lockdown was lifted and physical classes resumed.


Nakabonge says time with the children is limited in the school setting because explaining some concepts may take time. “No, it is not 5 or 10 minutes but as long as 30 or 45 minutes explaining one concept. That may easily get to your nerves and if patience is not your virtue, you are likely to give up. However, sometimes the rate at which they grasp is dependant on the student’s mood and the topic. They tend to take in information faster if they like the topic,” she smiles.

Sometimes, the child may become violent, especially if triggered by something beyond their control. Nakabonge says some get frustrated when given too much information because they get confused and may not understand other concepts. Therefore, you may have to give them time to relax and then resume, if there’s still time in the day. Alternatively, you may need to skip the rest of the day and start afresh the following day.

With her experience, Nakabonge says she has a better hold of children with autism, easily understanding their needs and paying attention to them than when starting out. “While I was not certain about what to do or expect when starting out, my desire to teach and help a learner understand helped me pull through. That was coupled with praying and reminding myself that I am a teacher by profession and should, therefore, be calm and understanding,” she laughs.

For Nakabonge, it continues to be an interesting journey. She says she has come to appreciate that patience is important when working with special needs children. “When you get to know them, they are fun to be with and inspiring,” she says.

Nakabonge believes that working while praying for them is very important because through that God has given her the grace to overcome every trying situation.

The experience opened doors for her to tutor other children with special needs as well as ordinary children. “I am eager to help a child learn irrespective of their understanding capabilities. As long as they will get the concept at the end of the day, giving up is not an option.”