When you’re serving as a Switch leader, you might begin to feel there are some students who could use some extra support. Maybe they can’t focus during small group time. Maybe they ask to leave the main experience often and seem like they’re a bit stressed. Maybe a student suddenly acts out in a way that you find challenging—and later you find out that student is dealing with a significant need. Students with disabilities don’t have a particular look. Students with autism, severe ADHD, a history of neglect, or any other difference may have become experts at hiding their deep needs. How can we get better at spotting the students who need extra support? And how can we help them when we realize they do?
Let’s start with the second question first. Do you know what Switch Support is? Switch Support leaders are people who have been trained by their campus to offer extra support to any student who needs it for any reason. But wait—there’s more! Have you heard of peer mentors? These are students who have decided to step into the role of being a guide and friend to a student who might feel a bit lost, lonely, or overwhelmed without them.
So, when a student in your small group seems to be struggling to focus, fit in, feel safe, etc. a Switch Support leader or peer mentor may be exactly what they need to begin to thrive at Switch.
But, back to the first question. How do we easily spot the students who might benefit from Switch Support or a peer mentor?
The most important thing to remember? Just because a student has a visible or known difference or disability does not mean they will automatically need extra support. Many students with disabilities of all types interact well with their peers and the adult support that’s already in place at Switch (that’s you!).
Here are some signs a student may need help from a Switch Support leader or peer mentor.
- A student stays separate from all crowds and students.
- A new parent asks a lot of questions and seems hesitant during drop-off.
- A student is behaving erratically, for example: touching random people in the lobby, crying, rocking, pacing, etc.
- A student leaves the main experience and wants to stay in the lobby.
What Should You Do?
When you see a student behaving in an unusual way, always ask if you can help! Here are some ways to do that well.
- Approach the student and ask them if they’re okay.
- If they seem only mildly flustered, ask: “Would you like me to introduce you to a student who can stay with you tonight and show you around?” If the student says, “Yes,” ask your campus staff to point you to a peer mentor if you don’t see one nearby.
- If the student seems more distressed and isn’t responding to you well, you can ask your campus staff to help you find a Switch Support leader if you don’t see one nearby. In the meantime, try to give the student a break. Try saying something like this.
- “Would you like to come sit over here for a bit? It’s much quieter.”
- “Hey, what’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?” Use a fun distraction as a way to break the ice and help the student shift to a pleasant thought.
- If a behavior is inappropriate, approach the student in a non-threatening way. Ask them, “Are you able to stop [name behavior] so we can talk about it?” If they respond with defiance or in an unexpected way, this is probably a student who will need additional support.
- Try to engage the student gently, in a neutral, non-threatening, friendly way, so they can achieve a more regulated and calm state. Check out this article to help you navigate challenging behaviors.
- It’s time to ask campus staff for the help of some Switch Support leaders.
- Ask a parent who looks especially worried at drop-off a question like this: “Is there anything else you think we should know to help your son/daughter have a great experience at Switch tonight?”
- If the parent discloses that their son or daughter has additional needs or usually doesn’t do so well in big groups or new environments, be sure to let the parent know you are happy to have their son or daughter at Switch! Then, mention that your campus also has Switch Support leaders who are happy to help!
- If you can, introduce the Switch Support leader to the parent and listen as they ask more questions so you’ll be prepared to intervene to help make sure the student has a safe, fun, inclusive time at Switch! Check out this article for Switch Support leaders for more ideas on how they communicate with parents.
The longer you serve as a Switch leader, the more easily you’ll be able to spot the students who could use some extra support. A student may have an “off” night one week and an amazing week the next. You’ll soon develop intuition that will guide you on when it’s time to ask for additional help as needed. And God will surely give you wisdom when you ask Him for it!