Teaching special needs children is challenging for full-time special education teachers, let alone general education teachers. Unfortunately, not all schools have the resources to support their general education teachers in teaching these students. While students with learning disabilities have been a part of general education classes for many years, teachers are now faced with handling students with other developmental disabilities.
So, what can a general education teacher do to help support these students while learning?
First, a thorough evaluation and diagnosis to ascertain the child’s disability (ies). And this evaluation should be carried out with the consent of the student’s parents/guardians.
Nowadays, children who qualify for IDEA services (special education programs) are no longer isolated from their peers. There are so many lessons that children with special needs can learn from other kids, and so many friendships to be formed.
The following tips will help you create a conducive learning environment for special needs children.
- For students with autism, you can use computer-based programs to hold their attention. There are good EdTech Tools (apps and websites) to help you connect to your students. An example is the Brain Parade’s See.Touch.Learn. program. The program consists of 4,400 images and 2,200 exercises created by a certified behavior analyst for instructing students with autism.
- Arrange desks in the classroom as rows, rather than using a circular sitting position. As much as you do not want to isolate them, special needs children need their own space because they are easily distracted. So keep desks away from windows and doors.
- Keep it simple. Make sure your instructions and lessons are more practical than theoretical and are easy to understand.
- Use visual aids—such as charts, graphs, and pictures—while teaching. These aids are appealing to them and allow them to be interactive while learning.
- Peers can be wonderful role models for special needs children. You could pair compatible children together when working on projects or participating in classroom activities. Many children welcome the opportunity to be a peer role model to the special needs student. And the collaboration boosts the self-esteem of both categories of students.
- Always give special needs children heads-up about their daily routine, so they have something to look forward to. If there will be an excursion, a special guest in the classroom, or a substitute teacher, try to let the class know in advance. Unexpected changes in the routine can be difficult for a child with autism.
- Teachers should allow students to take breaks in-between lessons. They could read a story, play a short game, stand up and stretch, or have casual conversations. Sometimes an opportunity to get out of their seat and walk around the room can be very calming for special needs children.
- Focus on their strengths and help them build confidence. If a child picks interest in animals, sports, or art, he/she needs the opportunity to exhibit his expertise in that subject. Special needs children learn better when they are using a lesson plan created specifically for them.
- Do away with environmental triggers—such as loud noises, bright lights, hot or cold temperatures—which can disrupt a child’s thinking pattern and cause unnecessary outbursts.
- Be empathetic and patient with special needs children, as they could require extra effort to understand a topic.
- Special needs children require follow-ups for better comprehension. So endeavor to communicate each student’s learning progress with their parents to enable them to monitor the child’s activities at home.
For general education teachers who are unfamiliar with special education, these tips are only a few out of the numerous strategies for helping children with learning disabilities. The goal is to provide equal access to education for special needs children through age 21. And this is achievable by providing specialized services that help them experience success in the classroom and beyond.