How to Support Special Needs Students

Teacher and students

Working with special needs students requires a level of training that specifically accommodates individuals with disabilities. Teachers who work with special needs students learn how to identify disabilities and design tailored curriculums based on assessment results and empirical data.

The job of a special educator is a demanding one, but with the right tools and strategies, the rewards can far outweigh the challenges. We’ve compiled a list of tips and resources to help you be as effective as you can with your students.

The Inclusive Classroom

An inclusive classroom is staffed with a regular education teacher and a special education teacher. The student population includes students with and without disabilities. The teachers often co-teach in order to address the wide-ranging needs of their students. Note: Inclusive classrooms vary greatly. Some schools only educate students with mild disabilities in general education classrooms while others maintain separate classrooms for students with moderate and severe disabilities. Each school has its own vision of how to implement inclusive practices.

If you’re special educator in an inclusive classroom, here are eight tips to help you create an effective and positive learning environment for your students.

  1. Organize student desks in groups: Depending on the size your classroom and the subject matter, organizing student desk into groups or pods is a great way to create an inclusive learning community. Students can work together on projects and activities, fostering interaction among disabled and non-disabled learners.
  2. Get to know your students: The more you know your about students, the more you can adapt your teaching to their needs.
  3. Create a safe and welcoming environment: Make sure your classroom reflects diversity and inclusion. Take inventory to ensure all classroom décor is conducive to such an environment.
  4. Set ground rules and stick with em’: It’s important to establish strong expectations on the first day of school. Rules for conduct and dialogue help create a sense of order and help establish an inclusive and safe learning environment.
  5. Work closely with your co-teacher: Co-teaching is all about teamwork and collaboration. Set aside plenty of time to plan and discuss how to execute instruction as well as to talk about your teaching relationship.
  6. Ensure Students Understand and Appreciate Individual Differences: When you have a classroom that emphasizes inclusion of both children with and without special needs, it’s important to take some time at the beginning of the school year, as well as many times throughout, and cultivate an environment that praises diversity and the differences we all have.
  7. Help Establish Short-Term Goals: By breaking larger tasks down into many simpler goals, you can instill students of all learning types with a sense of accomplishment. Not only does it help with morale, but it also helps gauge productivity and who is in the most need of help.
  8. Design a Multi-Faceted Curriculum: It’s really important to develop multiple teaching methods for the same content because it is accommodating to students of many learning types. This is a good approach to including special needs students in the same classroom.

Special Education Classroom

If you’re teaching in a special education classroom, your students will have a range of capabilities as well as disabilities. One student might have ADHD while another student has a physical disability that restricts mobility. It’s up to you to create a classroom environment conducive to learning and supports all students and their needs. Below are a few tips to help you meet their varying needs. And by the way, these tips apply to the inclusive classroom, too!

  1. Follow each student’s IEP carefully: An IEP is an individual education plan for students age 3 to 21 that includes goals, objectives, and related services specifically designed to meet the unique needs of a student with a disability. An IEP is required by federal law for all students who receive special education services. Your school by law has to follow an IEP so make sure to read each one carefully and follow the requirements. Inclusive classroom educators – this applies to you too! An IEP follows the student no matter what classroom format is used.
  2. Create checklists: Checklists can be a life saver, especially for educators working with students with disabilities. It’s helpful to establish a routine, and a checklist helps to ensure organization, consistency, and time management.
  3. Take breaks when necessary: Teachers AND students need a break now and again. When the time is right, take a moment to clear your head and allow your students to do the same.
  4. Communicate regularly with parents and/or caregivers: Make a special effort to stay in touch with parents and caregivers through email or by phone, or both. Communication helps build relationships and often prevents problems from becoming worse.
  5. Seek support from other special education teachers: Reach out to other special education teachers for support and advice. You’re not alone, and a bad day is not as bad when you have a support system in place.
  6. Create an Area for Children to Calm Down: It’s helpful to have a designated area for children to calm down after being upset or overstimulated. Depending on what disability a child may have, being overstimulated may be exactly what can impact their ability to focus and learn. A room or area to help children calm down should be equipped with items that can mildly stimulate the senses to find relief.
  7. Laminating Worksheets Can Prove Imperative: By laminating worksheets or papers, teachers can ensure that students work is not inhibited by various factors. Children are known for being messy and laminating worksheets ensures helps prevent accidental damage.
  8. Be Diligent About Documenting Behaviors and Their Causes: Just as with any child, various circumstances can trigger special needs children to express enjoyment, anger, sadness, and any other emotion on the spectrum. It’s more important when working with special needs children though to understand what can help make them more productive, what can set off aggression, and paying attention to which ways are most effective in calming them down.

What should I look for in a special education graduate program?

A graduate program in special education is designed to prepare students for leadership and administrative positions. Many schools offer a PhD in special education, but each school is unique in its approach to teaching and learning. The degree program you choose should be accreddited, should prepare you for licensure and to pass all required exams, and ought to provide opportunities for specialization in areas that interest you.

The following schools and programs are some of those which meet these requirements:

Northcentral University
Northcentral University

  • HLC
  • NCA
Grand Canyon University
Grand Canyon University

  • HLC
Capella University
Capella University

  • HLC
University of Southern California
University of Southern California

  • WASC

See all schools that offer Special Education degrees...

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