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Supporting Students with Special Needs

During the course of your teaching career, you will be exposed to many different students with different personalities and learning styles. As more and more research sheds light on the positive benefits of an integrated classroom, it is highly likely that you will also have students in your room who have special needs. With just a little extra preparation and assistance from you, these students – and your typical students – will have an enriching and productive school year.

Students with disabilities are required by law to have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and often have a thick file that accompanies it, depending on how long they’ve been in school. Do your research, but don’t do so much that you become influenced by past teachers’ opinions – you will want to make your own observations. Try to find out their strengths prior to the first day of school so you can encourage them to grow these strengths and use them to assist in areas of weakness as suggested by this post from We are Teachers.

Sometimes typical students – and their parents – don’t understand the challenges that people with special needs may have or why they may require additional resources or time. Create a lesson or activity that will illustrate these difficulties. Try assigning each of your students a different famous person with a disability and have them research his/her accomplishments (ex: scientist Stephen Hawkings, Lou Gehrig’s Disease; director Steven Spielberg, ADHD; animal activist Temple Grandin, autism spectrum disorder (check out her fantastic TED talk!); or actress Lauren Potter, Down syndrome).

Just like your typical students, kids with special needs may become overwhelmed in a classroom and need a break. Offer plenty of “brain breaks” throughout the day so that none of your students become too frustrated or overly stimulated. Check out our yoga and mindfulness videos at for some great ways to refocus your classroom’s energy; you can also try offering quiet, individual reading or study time, a not-too-difficult art project, or a short walk outside, if the weather is nice.

Teaching students with special needs should be a rewarding experience for you and your students. Prepare them for the future just as you would your typical students. Then sit back and watch how far they fly.

Today, March 21, is World Down Syndrome Day (three copies of the 21st chromosome = 3/21). Show your support by wearing mismatched, fun socks. Next Sunday, April 2 is Autism Awareness Day; all of April is Autism Awareness. Wear blue to show your support. This will be the 8th year that the Empire State Building lights up blue!


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