Practical Tips for Teaching Special Needs Students

Author: Lauren Craft

Eight-year-old Adam spoke just two words before he began special education instruction: Skittles and pizza. His two favorite foods. Now, he can voice more than 100 words and construct sentences together, thanks to the help of his teachers.

Tips for Teaching Special Needs Students

That progress didn’t come easily. His teachers encountered many difficulties along the way. Here are some simple, affordable, and practical tips for managing common challenges of special needs teaching, shared with us by education scholars and experienced instructors:

Morale-building tip: Develop individualized rewards for each student.
Special education students are as unique as their fingerprints, and their accomplishments are unique, too.

Consider designing an open-ended certificate where you can fill in the blanks to recognize what you know to be a hard-earned victory. “Learned 20 new words” for a student with verbal difficulties or “Great work in gym class” for a child challenged in motor skills.

Children are overjoyed to share these with their parents, and the parents are bound to be even more pleased.

Time-saving tip: Develop a template for communicating with parents.
Taking steps to build relationships with parents can seem like one more item on the to-do list after a tiresome day, even though you know how worthwhile it is.

Yet who says you can’t save a little time and mental energy? Consider using a template like this for sending updates to parents. Tailor it for your students and use it however you like – email, text, paper, or even a guide sheet for phone calls.

Student’s Name: _________
Date: ______
One accomplishment your child made this week: _______
One goal for next week: _____
Other updates or questions: _________

Sanity-saving tip: Visualize failures as “gems” of wisdom.
Would you expect anyone to score 100% on a college calculus test? Of course not. That’s pretty unlikely, maybe even a little ridiculous!

Special needs education is similar. Mess-ups by you and your students are normal, both because of the stress everyone’s under and because of the constant need to adapt to each student’s unique learning needs.

If you feel heavy-hearted about a mistake, visualize a gem in your mind. Remind yourself you now have a gem of wisdom for the future (which is more valuable than an actual emerald or ruby). Think about what the lesson is and how you can use it in the days ahead.

Similarly, remember each new day is a fresh start. Visualize yesterday’s daylight growing dim at sunset, and then imagine yesterday’s troubles dimming with it.

Remember, special needs teachers make more of a difference in the lives of their students than the children can ever articulate. The students’ gleaming smiles as they take baby steps forward, however, say far more than words ever could.

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About the Author

Lauren Craft

Lauren Craft loves writing. She enjoys sharing her joy with refugees from around the world, who have blessed her in return with heartfelt friendship and stories that inspire her heart. Her inspiring writing has appeared in more than 20 book compilations and magazines.

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