As teachers, you will often be called upon to help students with special needs, whether that means helping them catch up after falling behind in school or assisting them to make healthy life choices outside of the classroom.
Teaching students with disabilities can be challenging, but it’s also incredibly rewarding when you see their accomplishments and success in school.
Whether your student has hearing loss, ADHD, or other disabilities of any type, there are many effective ways to teach them in the classroom that will help them succeed while learning new skills and knowledge.
In this guide, you will be shown how to teach students with disabilities, how to better serve students with disabilities, and ensure their academic success.
Disabilities that can impact a student’s academic success
Some disability doesn’t affect a student’s academic performance. A few of these impairments can however make a student get low grades, and affect a student’s reading ability, auditory processing skills, or math ability.
The following are some disabilities that might make academic success hard for students:
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition that can make it challenging for people who have it to pay attention, control behavior, or sit still.
If you think a student may have ADHD, it’s important to implore them to talk to a doctor and seek therapy.
Symptoms of ADHD:
- Too much fidgeting and lack of restraint
- Difficulty remembering certain things and absent-mindedness
- Unstable mood swing
- Depression and lack of motivation
Dyslexia is one of many types of learning disabilities that are associated with language processing.
The primary symptoms of dyslexia can be difficulty in reading fluently, decoding words, spelling, writing, and/or comprehension.
The difficulty typically stems from a phonological deficit. People who suffer from dyslexia may also have problems speaking clearly or even have trouble pronouncing words at all.
Learning disability like dysgraphia makes it hard for people to write words or copy them from other materials.
Those with dysgraphia may have difficulty holding writing tools like pen or pencil properly, organizing letters, numbers, or symbols into a readable sentence or paragraph.
A disability like dysgraphia isn’t always recognized in elementary schools; however, if you know what to look for, you can ensure these students get the special assistance they may need.
Cerebral Palsy affects body movement due to an abnormal brain development pattern. It impairs a person’s ability to control their muscles, but it doesn’t affect a person’s mental capacity.
The condition is usually diagnosed at birth, but symptoms may not show up until much later in life.
Unlike other disabilities mentioned so far, cerebral palsy will affect the physical body. So students with it need special treatment, medical treatment can help but this disability can’t be permanently cured.
Cerebral Palsy symptoms:
- Stammering or speech disorder
- Muscle spasms
- Muscle stiffness and rigidity
Dyspraxia, commonly known as developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is a common but often misdiagnosed disability, characterized by difficulties in performing motor tasks. Some examples of dyspraxia include difficulty riding a bike, keeping balance while standing still, or walking in a straight line.
This is a rare disability but may hinder academic success for students in one way or the other.
Some of the associated symptoms are problems with coordination, flaccid muscles, weak muscles, abnormal walking, speech delay, speech disorder, or drooling.
Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability that affects a person’s ability to understand math. It’s frequently confused with dyslexia, which involves issues related to reading.
Students who have dyscalculia may experience difficulty processing numbers, understanding mathematical concepts, and performing basic math operations.
Left untreated, dyscalculia can lead to low self-esteem and an inability to effectively participate in activities at school or work.
In what way can disabilities impact academic success?
Many students may not even know they have a learning disability until later in life when they hit a roadblock while pursuing higher education or vocational training.
Learning disabilities can cause difficulties with language, reading, math, and writing which can make a student lag behind academically. When you understand how learning disabilities can impact academic success, you’ll be better prepared to work with students who struggle in class.
How to teach students with disabilities
1. Include All Learners
Inclusive classrooms ensure all students have access to materials and activities, as well as get a chance to participate in classes.
For kids with disabilities to succeed, we must eliminate barriers within schools so that they may access their education just like every other student.
This doesn’t mean dumbing down the curriculum, it means educating students on disability culture and how they can work together cooperatively.
2. Differentiate your instruction
When teaching students with disabilities, it’s important to differentiate your instruction. They may require special classroom materials or a different lesson plan altogether.
It can be hard to make these changes if you are used to using one-size-fits-all teaching methods, but remember that different students need different learning experiences and adapting your teaching style will help them succeed in class.
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3. Include accommodations in class
Make sure that students have access to all classroom materials, but be flexible. A student with a visual impairment might need larger-print textbooks or books on tape, for example, while a student in a wheelchair may need an adjustable desk.
Don’t assume that if you use accommodations in one class, you’ll continue using them in every future class.
If a student is struggling, don’t try to force them into a method that works for other kids. Instead, teach them a method that works best for them and helps them succeed in school.
4. Get in touch with parents/guardians
If you have a student with a disability, it’s important to check in regularly with his or her parents. Find out about any special needs that need to be accommodated or behavioral issues that may require extra attention.
You can also recommend specific resources (books, websites, apps) that you think will help your student succeed in school.
5. Give them credit for their efforts
While it’s important to give feedback on a student’s work, do so in a positive way.
Kids who get good grades are often told that they have good study habits or that they are smart.
Unfortunately, neither of these statements gives them credit for their effort. Instead, take a minute to reflect on how hard your child worked to get a good grade.
If you don’t acknowledge disabled students’ efforts, they might lose motivation and won’t work as hard in school when it comes time for a test or an exam!
For example, if a student asks you how they did on an assignment, saying you got a 0 out of 20 is not helpful, instead say you missed these 3 questions. Here is what you missed and why.
6. Be flexible when needed
Children with special needs often need to be taught in a different way than other students. That doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of succeeding; it simply means that you may have to get creative when it comes to teaching them.
If you are passionate about helping these students succeed, stay open-minded as you explore all of your options for lesson plans, educational materials, and activities.
Each student is unique, so each learning experience should be as well.
7. Celebrate success!
As teachers, you will often get hung up on whether or not a student learns something and forget about celebrating their achievements and successes.
For students with disability, learning will be hard for them when compared to their mates. Celebrate them when they achieve a goal or get an award, even if it’s a small feat.
Even though you need to set clear goals with your students, it’s also crucial that you make sure they know when they achieve them.
It’s obvious that students with disabilities require more attention to succeed. So, as a teacher, it’s your job not only to teach but also to adapt your curriculum for each student.
As educators discover how to handle these students’ individual learning needs, it is possible for all students, regardless of their special education status, to succeed academically.