Teachers are the pillars of society. They have an enormous responsibility for shaping the minds of the future generation. However, as a teacher, your job gets more challenging when imparting education to students with special needs. These students struggle to understand concepts in a regular instructional manner. So, if you find yourself in a dilemma about how to go about this task, this article will provide you with advice on how to make education easier for them.
Who are special needs students?
In clinical terms, special needs students are children who require extra assistance to manage their psychological, physical, or social disabilities. They face difficulty grasping concepts via traditional learning approaches and struggle to build social connections. Although many institutions specialize in special education, some of these children can receive education with their normally-abled peers along with a few special classes. It depends on the type of special assistance that they require.
Teaching special needs students is a challenge that requires additional skills. Even if you possess exceptional teaching skills, you may be out of your depth while dealing with special needs students. Experts suggest using inclusive teaching models to ensure everyone in class thrives. To prepare for this, teachers can opt for additional qualifications specializing in special education. An MAT in Special Education prepares you for the intricacies of dealing with special needs students. Opting for an online degree will help you expedite your upskilling process.
Special needs vs. differently-abled
People often use the terms special needs and differently-abled interchangeably. However, they aren't. Special needs students have learning disabilities that make it harder for them to learn. They can usually study in the same class as normally-abled students with a little extra help. They just need some additional learning strategies to keep their mind focused.
Differently-abled students are physically or mentally disabled. Physical disabilities include motor, hearing, or visual impairment. Such students have no problem grasping concepts through traditional teaching strategies. Mental disabilities include cerebral palsy and Down's syndrome, among many others.
Learning disabilities do not hinder the intelligence of the student. Still, identifying different learning disabilities will help you devise your teaching strategies to positively impact the lives of your students. Through early intervention, students can learn to overcome such disabilities. The most common learning disabilities found in a mainstream classroom are as follows:
Dyslexia is also known as a reading disorder. In this condition, the student is incapable of relating sounds to the alphabet. It makes them unable to process a language. Such students have problems speaking long words and finding the correct words to express themselves. They also tend to mix up similarly-shaped alphabets, for example, 'b' and 'd'.
Students suffering from dyscalculia have difficulty comprehending mathematical problems. Simple addition-subtraction exercises can prove to be extremely difficult for them. Such students require a different approach and lots and lots of patience from the teachers.
ADHD is short for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. As the name suggests, it is characterized by a low attention span and hyperactivity. It is commonly misdiagnosed in children and teenagers because most children are more active than usual. Children who have ADHD have trouble containing their emotions. Temper tantrums are normal for them. You may also find them difficult to stay still and concentrate.
Autism is a broad spectrum that includes a variety of social, behavioral, and communication skills. It is a genetic condition being diagnosed more often in the US now. Various studies are conducted every day to educate people regarding autism.
Effective learning strategies you can apply in class
Managing an inclusive classroom is not a particularly difficult feat. After you identify all the special needs students in your class, all you need is a creative strategy. You can take help from the following steps to innovate your teaching practices.
1. Make small groups
Teaching a whole class at the same time can be difficult. Considering that special needs students often have difficulty paying attention, they can get ignored. It is best to divide students into small groups of 3 or 4. Be sure to group students facing similar struggles. This will help you focus your attention in the best way possible.
2. Take help from technology
Computer-based learning is arguably the best way to grab students' attention. Use graphics and comics to convey ideas and instructions. Colorful illustrations and cartoon presentations of topics can urge the students to participate in class.
3. Follow a strict schedule
Autistic students can find it challenging to adjust to change. So, avoid making last-minute changes to the daily routine. Let students know in advance if you plan a new activity or invite someone to meet them.
4. Adopt different levels of teaching
Understand you need to adopt a different level of teaching for special needs students. This may involve explaining the same concept in different and more straightforward ways. According to research, constructivist teaching strategies can significantly impact the learning outcomes of students with special needs. Such methods involve learning through experience.
5. Break down long tasks into smaller parts
Students may fail to grasp instructions for a lengthy task because of a low attention span. So, simplify it for them. Break one long task into various smaller tasks. Give separate instructions for each part. Doing so will help them stay focused.
6. Create a peaceful environment
Autistic students can get triggered by loud noises or bright lights. Students with ADHD can also get easily distracted. Hence, create an environment free of external and internal disruptions. This environment should be their safe space.
7. Take breaks
If you observe a student experiencing difficulty attempting a task, encourage them to take a break. Use this time to rest and refresh. It will help everyone in the class.
8. Work on their social skills
Teach students basic classroom etiquette. This includes waiting for their turn to speak and not disrupting classroom decorum. Encourage personal friendships and help them build their social circle.
9. Play to their strengths
Each student is unique and possesses their own set of strengths. Use this to your advantage. Adopt personalized teaching methods for special needs students. Find out what they like and what they are good at.
Students with special needs often feel disconnected from the world. It is your job to make them feel connected and understood. After their parents, children with special needs often look up to their teachers for guidance and support. You can play a huge role in their lives by going the extra mile to teach them in a way they understand.