This article has been published in Enabling Education Review 9
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Title: Improving self-esteem in young children with disabilities in Morocco
Author: El Qalli, M
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2020

The childhood years are very exciting, filled with many changes and challenges. From early childhood, children develop their own style, their own social life and their own rhythm. The role of teachers and educators is very important at this stage. In this article, Mina shares her personal reflections on being an educator who specialises in supporting children with autism and other disabilities in Morocco.

Observing children
In my class, I work with children with disabilities. Over time, I have been able to observe the children, their reactions, their characteristics and needs. One of the things I noticed is that they all often had a tendency to devalue themselves, to pass negative judgments on their own worth, on their work, or on the image they see in the mirror.

They were very sensitive to the image that others had of them, especially the views of adults. I noticed some children in my class responded to being called ‘bad’, ‘ugly’ or even ‘good for nothing’ by using the same words to describe themselves. These reflections often returned in their little mouths, the children repeating adult words.

I wanted to know why the children were devaluing themselves. I wondered if it was related to their disability, whether it was due to their relationship with others, or if it related to the way they are educated within their families.

Each child is unique and therefore different, but I always ask myself if each child really knows his or her possibilities. How can I transform the perception of repeated failures in learning into opportunities of discovering themselves?

My approach
To help my students develop their self-esteem, I have adopted an inclusive approach to the activities I develop for them. I set up activity workshops that invite them to cooperate and share with their peers. These workshops are an opportunity for communication and exchange (of words, materials and help), and the students have a great time.

The workshops focus on creating educational materials and developing children’s skills, such as fine motor skills or coordination. For example, one of the workshops involves puppet-making. Children with and without disabilities cooperate to create puppets using socks. Other examples of activities include using straws and cotton buds to create materials we can use for activities later on.

An inclusive approach requires that I help children break free from social comparison with their peers. At the beginning, children can hesitate to participate. After a while, they integrate more, join in with the activities and cooperate with their peers. With continued encouragement, they all gain in confidence about their own abilities.

In the classroom, each pupil must exist as a person and find a positive image of him or herself. My inclusive approach helps children to value themselves, in order to help them construct their personalities and develop a sense of autonomy as well as confidence to interact socially with others.

Children must be given a voice in education today. They need opportunities to express their difficulties. Learners need to be taken as they come and supported. They need to be allowed and enabled to show, flourish, and solidify their capabilities – as learners who have many emotional and physical possibilities.

Mina El Qalli is a trainer in autism and educator for children with autism and other intellectual disabilities, and executive director of foreign relations at the Arab Media Centre for People with Disabilities, Morocco.