5 Tips for Addressing the Learning Needs of Students with Disabilities

As a mother of three, it’s hard not to reward and discipline all of my kids the same way.

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It might be easier in the moment, but it doesn't work for any of us, especially them, in the long run. After all, they are three unique individuals who are motivated by different things and need to have three individual plans.

The same concept applies to the classroom. Each and every student is unique in how they learn, how they socialize, and how they're motivated.

Thus, figuring out how to provide equal access to your lessons for all of your students is a monstrous undertaking.

Here are five tips to get you started, whether you're a general education teacher, special education teacher, or paraprofessional:

1. Attend the Necessary Meetings

If you aren’t already attending the IEP or other meetings for the student get involved and attend the next scheduled one. You'll learn a lot and get some insight into the student you didn’t have before.

As a mother of a high schooler on a 504 plan I've learned over many years, teachers who take the time to attend the meeting never have any issues throughout the school year. 

The ones that didn’t...? They do.

2. Be Prepared for Anything and Everything

Know as much as you can about the student’s behaviors, modifications, and accommodations.

Read the IEP and ask for help as needed to make sure you know what modifications and/or accommodations are needed for these students to access the general education curriculum.

A student may have behaviors that affect their learning. Determine what they are and implement effective strategies to reduce disruptions to their learning opportunities.

3. Find their Strengths

If a student has an IEP, start there, as it will provide you with valuable information, including the student’s strengths and interests.

When possible, ask the student directly, as they will give you some pretty good insight.

Parents are obviously also a great resource. Consider creating a little survey they can complete about their child. What information will be the most beneficial for you as their teacher?

4. Never Give Up

If you're working on a specific goal and finding little success, don’t give up.

Keep practicing and keep reinforcing, because many students with a disability learn new things at a much slower rate. It's simply a fact, and not the result of a failure on your part.

Continue to analyze and re-approach how you’ve been teaching the goal:

  • Do you need more hands-on opportunities? 
  • Are you giving immediate feedback? 
  • Do you need to practice the new skill in multiple settings?
  • Do you need to adjust the goal into smaller easier to achieve steps?

5. Consider Assistive Technology (AT)

For many students, the use of AT is the key to success and the key to inclusion. Learn as much as you can about the different types of AT from no/low-tech to high-tech options.