Teaching Students with Special Needs

Prepare to teach the students with special needs you may have in your classroom using these suggestions and guidelines for accommodating and modifying your lessons to meet the needs of everyone. New teachers will find this resource particularly valuable. Includes examples of traits various types of special needs students may exhibit along with strategies to help your special needs students be successful.
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Updated: June 9, 2019
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Students Who Have Hearing Impairments

Secondary Thoughts

Other students can be responsible for taking notes (on a rotating basis) for a hearing impaired student.

Hearing impairment may range from mildly impaired to total deafness. Although it is unlikely that you will have any deaf students in your classroom, it is quite possible that you will have one or more who will need to wear one or two hearing aids. Here are some teaching strategies:

  • Provide written or pictorial directions.

  • Physically act out the steps for an activity. You or one of the other students in the class can do this.

  • Seat a hearing impaired child in the front of the classroom and in a place where he or she has a good field of vision of both you and the chalkboard.

  • Many hearing impaired youngsters have been taught to read lips. When addressing the class, be sure to enunciate your words (but don't overdo it) and look directly at the hearing impaired student or in his or her general direction.

  • Provide a variety of multisensory experiences for students. Allow students to capitalize on their other learning modalities.

  • It may be necessary to wait longer than usual for a response from a hearing impaired student. Be patient

  • Whenever possible, use lots of concrete objects such as models, diagrams, realia, samples, and the like. Try to demonstrate what you are saying by using touchable items.

Students Who Have Visual Impairments

All students exhibit different levels of visual acuity. However, it is quite likely that you will have students whose vision is severely hampered or restricted. These students may need to wear special glasses and require the use of special equipment. Although it is unlikely that you will have a blind student in your classroom, it is conceivable that you will need to provide a modified instructional plan for visually limited students. Consider these tips:

  • Tape-record portions of textbooks, trade books, and other printed materials so students can listen (with earphones) to an oral presentation of necessary material.

  • When using the chalkboard, use white chalk and bold lines. Also, be sure to say out loud whatever you write on the chalkboard.

  • As with hearing impaired student, it is important to seat the visually impaired student close to the main instructional area.

  • Provide clear oral instructions.

  • Be aware of any terminology you may use that would demand visual acuity the student is not capable of. For example, phrases such as “over there” and “like that one” would be inappropriate.

  • Partner the student with other students who can assist or help.

Students Who Have Physical Impairments

Physically challenged students include those who require the aid of a wheelchair, canes, walkers, braces, crutches, or other physical aids for getting around. As with other impairments, these youngsters' exceptionalities may range from severe to mild and may be the result of one or more factors. What is of primary importance is the fact that these students are no different intellectually than the more mobile students in your classroom. Here are some techniques to remember:

  • Be sure there is adequate access to all parts of the classroom. Keep aisles between desks clear, and provide sufficient space around demonstration tables and other apparatus for physically disabled students to maneuver.

  • Encourage students to participate in all activities to the fullest extent possible.

  • Establish a rotating series of “helpers” to assist any physically disabled students in moving about the room. Students often enjoy this responsibility and the opportunity to assist whenever necessary.

  • Focus on the intellectual investment in an activity. That is, help the child use his or her problem-solving abilities and thinking skills in completing an assignment without regard to his or her ability to get to an area that requires object manipulation.

  • When designing an activity or constructing necessary equipment, be on the lookout for alternative methods of display, manipulation, or presentation.

  • Physically impaired students will, quite naturally, be frustrated at not being able to do everything the other students can accomplish. Be sure to take some time periodically to talk with those students and help them get their feelings and/or frustrations out in the open. Help the child understand that those feelings are natural but also that they need to be discussed periodically.

Students Who Have Emotional Problems

Students with emotional problems are those who demonstrate an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships, develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems, exhibit a pervasive mood of unhappiness under normal circumstances, or show inappropriate types of behavior under normal circumstances.

Although you will certainly not be expected to remediate all the emotional difficulties of students, you need to understand that you can and do have a positive impact on students' ability to seek solutions and work in concert with those trying to help them. Here are some guidelines for your classroom:

  • Whenever possible, give the student a sense of responsibility. Put the student in charge of something (operating an overhead projector, cleaning the classroom aquarium, re-potting a plant), and be sure to recognize the effort the student put into completing the assigned task.

  • Provide opportunities for the student to self-select an activity or two he or she would like to pursue independently. Invite the student to share his or her findings or discoveries with the rest of the class.

  • Get the student involved in activities with other students—particularly those students who can serve as good role models for the child. It is important that the emotionally disturbed child has opportunities to interact with fellow students who can provide appropriate behavioral guidelines through their actions.

  • Discuss appropriate classroom behavior at frequent intervals. Don't expect students to remember in May all the classroom rules that were established in September. Provide “refresher courses” on expected behavior throughout the year.

  • Emotionally disabled students benefit from a highly structured program—one in which the sequence of activities and procedures is constant and stable. You will certainly want to consider a varied academic program for all your students, but you will also want to think about an internal structure that provides the support emotionally impaired youngsters need.

  • Be sure to seat an emotionally impaired child away from any distractions (highly verbal students, equipment, tools, etc.).

  • Whenever possible, keep the activities short and quick. Provide immediate feedback, reinforcement, and a sufficient amount of praise.

Students Who Have ADHD

Students with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) offer significant and often perplexing challenges for many teachers. However, it is interesting to note that the IDEA's definition of students with disabilities does not include students with ADHD. For this reason, ADHD students are not eligible for services under IDEA unless they fall into other disability categories (hearing impairment, learning disability, etc.). However, they can receive services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

ADHD students comprise approximately 3 to 5 percent of the school-age population. This may be as many as 35 million children under the age of 18. Significantly more boys than girls are affected, although reasons for this difference are not yet clear. Students with ADHD generally have difficulties with attention, hyperactivity, impulse control, emotional stability, or a combination of those factors.

As you consider this list of signs of ADHD, know that several of these traits must be present in combination before a diagnosis of ADHD can be made. A student who has ADHD …


Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law requiring that institutions not discriminate against people with disabilities in any way if they want to receive federal funds. It requires that a school create a special plan to accommodate students' learning needs. However, the law provides no funding to do so.

  • Has difficulty following directions.

  • Has difficulty playing quietly.

  • Talks excessively.

  • Fidgets or squirms when sitting.

  • Blurts out things.

  • Is easily distracted.

  • Often engages in dangerous play without thinking about the consequences.

  • Has difficulty awaiting turns.

  • Interrupts or intrudes.

  • Doesn't seem to listen.

  • Has difficulty paying attention.

  • Has difficulty remaining seated.

  • Often shifts from one activity to another.

When working with ADHD students in your classroom, keep the following in mind:

  • Make your instructions brief and clear, and teach one step at a time.

  • Be sure to make behavioral expectations clear.

  • Carefully monitor work, especially when students move from one activity to another.

  • Make frequent eye contact. Interestingly, students in the second row are more focused then those in the first.

  • Adjust work time so it matches attention spans. Provide frequent breaks as necessary.

  • Provide a quiet work area where students can move for better concentration.

  • Establish and use a secret signal to let students know when they are off task or misbehaving.

  • Use physical contact (a hand on the shoulder) to focus attention.

  • Combine both visual and auditory information when giving directions.

  • Ease transitions by providing cues and warnings.

  • Teach relaxation techniques for longer work periods or tests.

  • Each day be sure students have one task they can complete successfully.

  • Limit the amount of homework.

  • Whenever possible, break an assignment into manageable segments.

You are not alone when you're working with special needs students. Often specialists, clinicians, and other experts are available in the school as part of an educational team. Included on the team may be special education teachers, diagnosticians, parents, social workers, representatives from community agencies, administrators, and other teachers. By working in concert and sharing ideas, you can provide a purposeful education plan for each special needs student.

Excerpted from

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Success as a Teacher
Anthony D. Fredericks, Ed.D.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Success as a Teacher © 2005 by Anthony D. Fredericks. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.
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