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Special Education Techniques: A Comprehensive Approach

Students with special needs require a different approach than those without disabilities. In the past, many disabled students were segregated from their peers, but since the 1970s, courts have declared that this practice is unconstitutional.

Teachers can use a variety of teaching methods to help special education students learn. One strategy is to structure lessons around a common theme.

Individualized Education Plans

Every child with a disability must have an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. The IEP is a map that lays out special education instruction, supports and services kids need to thrive at school.

The IEP is developed by a team that includes the child’s parents and school staff. The team members look at all the information about the child, including the results of their evaluations.

The team decides if the student meets the criteria for a disability and what services are needed to meet their educational needs. The IEP may include accommodations, which allow students to participate in class by adjusting their learning environment. This might include working on assignments at a different time, writing shorter papers or providing extra practice. The IEP also outlines goals that the student will work on and how much time they have to accomplish them. The IEP is reviewed and modified each year. A reevaluation, called a triennial, is required by law to find out whether the student still has a disability and what educational instruction will best help them.

Sensory Tools

For students who struggle to process sensory input, a sensory tool can help them focus and stay calm. Sensory tools can be incorporated into learning activities or used as breaks during the school day.

Sensory tools can include everything from wobble cushions to weighted lap pads, but a teacher can also modify or adjust a typical classroom setting to provide more tactile stimulation. For example, a student with visual and auditory sensory sensitivities might be more successful in a movement station if the space is shaped like a quiet corner or outlined with tape. This allows the student to enter and exit the space when needed and helps avoid disrupting class.

Teachers can even offer a sensory kit, which is usually a bag, box or crate that contains a variety of tools. The kit can include a fidget toy, calming music and other resources that can be used throughout the day. Teachers should set goals and monitor how these strategies are working.


Accommodations are changes in learning environments or teaching practices that level the playing field for students with disabilities. These accommodations are not necessarily part of a student's IEP, but they can help kids with disabilities be more successful in school. Accommodations can include adjustments in the presentation of material, the way that students respond or the setting of tests and activities.

For example, if a child has trouble writing, she can use an accommodation to give her answers verbally instead of written. Teachers can also make other changes that help a child learn.

It is important that all teachers, parents and children know about the difference between modifications and accommodations. Modifications change what a student is expected to learn, while accommodations only alter the process the student uses to complete an assignment. This distinction can be particularly important for students with disabilities who are taking standardized tests. If a test is modified, the teacher must be sure that it is still aligned with a student's IEP.

Assistive Technology

Assistive technology includes hardware, software or other products that can increase the functional capabilities of children with disabilities and allow them to benefit from the general education curriculum and extracurricular activities in the least restrictive environment. It can be high-tech, such as computer equipment, environmental control devices or wheelchairs, but also low-tech, like pencil grips or schedules or laminated communication boards.

Behavioral interventions also fall into the assistive technology umbrella. A number of researchers have developed and tested tools that help teachers manage problem behaviors in students with special needs.

Many of these tools can be used in conjunction with existing, standard assistive technology devices or in place of them. These may include refreshable Braille displays, screen readers and speech synthesis programs that convert printed text into synthesized voice. Other examples include math-talk software that understands technical vocabulary and transcribes it into mathematical notation, and eye-tracking devices that turn the user's head and eyes into a hands-free mouse.

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