Students with unique needs can display a wide variety of behaviors in a learning situation and educators must become familiar with the specific difficulties and challenges associated with their particular situation. Often times, it is the general education teacher who first brings the needs of exceptional students to the attention of a referral team. Identifying and serving students with such needs will require special considerations and purposeful modifications on the part of the educator. Teachers also must familiarize themselves with the legal requirements associated with serving students who are exceptional.
There are several categories of disabilities, each with their own challenges as well as overlapping characteristics. Each category also requires a different set of general modifications, accommodations and instructional strategies.
Students with learning disabilities are usually of average or higher intelligence but are challenged when it comes to information processing. They don’t typically have physical, health or emotional disturbances. Such students might exhibit reading difficulties, high activity levels, short attention spans, poor organizational skills and often fail to recognize subtle communication cues such as body language and facial expressions (Lewis & Doorlag, 2011, pp. 52-54). Students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can display “inappropriate attention skills, impulsivity, and, in some cases, hyperactivity.” (p.58) Classroom modifications for this category primarily are related to instructional strategies that involve remediation and compensation.(p. 193)
Students with intellectual disabilities exhibit a slower rate of learning and often have developmental delays in several areas such as language, social and vocational skills. Such students may experience learning difficulties with specific types of learning. For example, reading comprehension will be more challenging than reading recognition or math problem solving will be more difficult than math computation. Instruction is geared primarily towards habilitation in an effort to prepare students for the skills necessary for successful adulthood. (Lewis & Doorlag, 2011 p. 210)
Behavioral disorders can affect classroom behaviors, social skills, and academic instruction. It is characterized according to three indicators: “1. If it deviates from the range of behaviors for the child’s age and sex which significant adults perceive as normal: 2. If it occurs very frequently or too intensely; or 3. If it occurs over an extended period of time.” (Lewis & Doorlag, 2011, p. 232) Program modifications often are necessary in the areas of classroom behavior, social skills, and academic instruction. This can involve detailed data collection followed by a customized intervention program that seeks to either increase or decrease a behavior or teach a new behavior.
Communication disorders affect student interactions and are some of the most common disorders. Some common difficulties are mispronunciations, dysfluency, and unusual voice quality which interferes with communication.(p. 250) The main accommodations teachers need to focus on here speech and language impairments are opportunities to practice what the speech-language pathologist has implemented.
Autism Spectrum Disorder can exhibit a range of characteristics from severe delays to giftedness and can affect verbal communication, non-verbal communication, and social interaction. In most instances, teachers work with the special educator to decide on modifications in the classroom. Motivational systems can be helpful to modify certain behaviors. Additionally, the classroom may need to be physically arranged in order to support the student’s social interactions, maximize participation and decrease problem behaviors. (Lewis & Doorlag, 2011, p. 264) For example, a student who calms him/herself with pacing can be positioned near an area with clear space along a wall.
In her book, Ellen Notbohm writes from the perspective of a child with autism. One quote reads, “Because I think differently, my autism requires that you teach differently.” (2006, p. xxv) While this is true for many students with disabilities, I believe it is especially true for students with autism. Notbohm suggests the instruction that is visual/spatial, repetitive, and presented in whole chunks is most effective for students with autism (p. 29-30).
Students with physical and health impairments have a wide variety of conditions such as cerebral palsy, asthma, diabetes or allergies. Some of these conditions require no modifications while others might require extensive services. The Individual Educational Plan (IEP) for this student will address the goals pertaining to a student’s specific needs. This may include modification of the physical environment, schedule format, and/or the structure of instructional activities and assignments.
Regular progress monitoring is an important component to consider when providing accommodations for students with special needs. Frequent data collection and recording will help inform educators of whether or not students are making progress towards goals, what are areas in need of improvement, and what goals need to be revised. Frequent progress monitoring also allows educators to provide timely feedback to the student, family, and care team.
Finally, it is imperative that a positive and collaborative relationship be fostered with the families of students with special needs. Seligman (2000) references numerous publications that support the notion that school environments that are rich with strong parent-educator partnerships are more likely to foster accelerated academic progress. Current literature also reflects that parents of children with special needs can provide information that is vital to the planning and implementation of their child’s educational program (McCloskey, 2010). Numerous resources offer strategies and ideas that foster the building of bridges between school and home. Beth Perce (2013) offers several suggestions that educations can follow to enhance communication such as parent surveys, home visits, and weekly communication. Further, student guardians and caretakers are likely fearful for their children as they maneuver through the education system and simply need a compassionate and informed advocate who can offer support and reliable information. I am providing links below to two papers that address this very issue:
These artifacts illustrate the legal and ethical side of collaborating with parents of children with special needs. They also provide a perspective from the parents’ side that can help promote an atmosphere of empathy and cooperation.
Lewis, R. B. & Doorlag, D. H.(2011). Teaching students with special needs in general education classrooms. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
McCloskey, E. (2010). What Do I Know? Parental positioning in special education.
International Journal of Special Education, v25 n1 p 162-170 .
Notbohm, E. (2006). Ten things your student with autism wishes you knew. Arlilngton, TX: Future Horizons, Inc.
Perce, B. (2013, May 21). Teaching Secrets: Learning From Parents. In Education Week. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2013/05/21/tln_perce_parents.html?qs=IEP
Seligman, M. (2000). Conducting effective conferences with parents of children with disabilities.
New York, New York: The Guilford Press