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Tips for Teachers and Classroom Resources

Inclusive education for special needs students

By The Editorial Team

Inclusive education involves teaching all students in the same age-appropriate general education classroom at their local school, regardless of the challenges they face. The philosophy of inclusive education promotes the idea that students with disabilities are just as competent as students without disabilities. Successful inclusive education for students with disabilities involves accepting their differences, ensuring they feel supported and encouraging them to participate fully in the classroom.

Take a look at the benefits of inclusive education and what strategies teachers can use to ensure classrooms are welcoming and accessible to all students. 

Benefits of inclusive classrooms

Students with or without disabilities benefit from inclusive education in a variety of ways. For instance, teaching students with special needs in inclusive classrooms can lead to: 

  • Greater academic gains in literacy, math, and social studies
  • Better communication and social skills
  • Fewer absences
  • Less disruptive behavior
  • More motivation to work and learn

Research shows that students without special needs also benefit from learning alongside those with special needs, developing both their cognitive and social abilities. This is generally because inclusive classrooms can enable new learning opportunities to emerge. Serving as a peer coach, for instance, can enable students without special needs to improve their own academic performance by helping others learn.

Classroom teachers can start by providing instruction using learning modalities that cater to a diverse range of learners, which should end up benefiting all students in a general classroom.  

Creating an inclusive classroom for students with disabilities

When developing inclusive classrooms for students with disabilities, it’s crucial to review the individual education plan (IEP) of each student before incorporating new methods. The type of disability that a student has can determine what strategies work best. 

Learning disabilities

Students with learning disabilities succeed academically when given specific remedial instructions. This could involve breaking down an assignment into smaller steps, using diagrams or pictures to emphasize directions and modeling instructions to help students visualize what they need to do. 

Scaffolding practices can also make a difference. Start with an explicit instruction to help students acquire a new skill before easing them into the next learning segment. Asking students about their processes and encouraging them to monitor their own progress can help them better grasp what they’re learning. 

Down syndrome

Full-inclusion special education for students with Down syndrome should involve a multisensory-based program. Multisensory instruction engages more than one sense at a time, such as pairing visuals with auditory instructions or demonstrations of how to complete a task. 

Breaking instructions into smaller steps and repeating small chunks of information can make it easier for students to retain what they’re reading or viewing. Because students with Down syndrome learn at a slower pace than their peers, allowing adequate response time ensures they have a chance to apply what they’ve learned on their own. 

Autism

Students with autism may have sensory processing difficulties and need quieter classrooms, dimmer lights, and minimal smells to participate fully. Creating designated learning areas can provide students with a distraction-free zone to focus on their work. Using visuals to establish classroom boundaries or explain activities can better communicate expectations and help students become more independent. 

Health impairments

Health impairments can be due to a variety of conditions, such as arthritis, epilepsy, ADHD, and seizure disorder. Each condition comes with unique impairments and modifying the classroom with technology can make it easier for students to learn and communicate. Providing assignments electronically or audio-recording lessons helps students access materials on their own if they find it difficult to focus. Peer coaches can also provide guidance during hands-on activities for students with physical limitations. 

Emotional disturbances

Students who suffer from Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBDs) may find it difficult to practice impulse control or interact with other students. Providing clear classroom guidelines and implementing a reward system that recognizes positive behavior can influence students to engage with their peers and do well in their lessons. 

EBD students may also struggle to focus for long periods. Providing mini-breaks or extra time to finish assignments throughout the school day gives students a chance to burn off excess energy or catch up with the rest of the class. 

Orthopedic impairments

Classroom accessibility is one of the major challenges students with orthopedic impairments face. If the student is in a wheelchair, they may require special tables or seats to participate comfortably. Writing aids, such as pencil grips or special paper, can benefit students with upper limb disabilities. Teachers may also need to modify lesson plans and class activities for accessibility. For instance, assigning a peer mentor or special tasks the student can accomplish on their own while still being part of the group can help them feel included. 

Hearing impairments

Students with a hearing impairment may require assistive devices, such as an induction loop or a transmitter with a clip-on microphone worn by the teacher, to succeed in the classroom. Written materials and captioned videos can make it easier for students to understand instructions.  

Assigning students with hearing loss a seat in the front row ensures they have a clear view of the whiteboard, projector, or instructor, especially if they lip-read. Teachers can take an extra step by facing the class instead of the board when lecturing and allowing students to record lectures to better access information.

Visual impairments

Inclusive activities for visually-impaired students require verbal instruction for them to participate fully. Alternative options may need to be offered if the activities are off-campus. Supplying course materials electronically can also help students adapt information to a more suitable format, such as audio.

Because students with visual impairments may take longer to read or complete assignments, making a weekly or monthly schedule can help them plan accordingly and get a head start if they wish. Providing audio-recorded comments on tasks instead of written comments can make feedback and instruction more accessible. 

Multiple disabilities

Students can have multiple physical or mental disabilities that make the classroom environment more difficult to navigate. Rather than rigidly sticking to a singular program for all students to follow, provide students with disabilities an individualized schedule with alternative assignments or tasks that align with their needs. Ensuring there are minimal distractions in the classroom and that class materials are available in multiple formats can help students stay focused and get the information they need. Having a separate, quieter room available for exams or other solo tasks can help students successfully complete their work in a distraction-free zone.

Conclusion

Inclusive classrooms offer a plethora of advantages for students with disabilities, as well as those without. By introducing certain teaching strategies and adapting the instruction to guarantee access, students can have an improved educational experience. For instance, individualized timetables for a range of impairments and providing course material electronically for those with visual impairments can help generate a learning atmosphere that caters to everyone’s needs. All in all, inclusive classrooms can help cultivate a feeling of fellowship and acceptance, allowing for a more fulfilling learning experience.

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