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Tips for Teachers and Classroom Resources

Supporting Students with Communication Disorders in Schools

By Sarah Hewitt

From comprehending their lessons to answering questions you’ll ask, good communication skills are integral for any student’s success in the classroom. However, building these skills isn’t always a straightforward affair, as some students struggle with communication disorders.

What are Communication Disorders?

A student with communication disorders will find it difficult to interact at school, as they have persistent problems with language, speech, and hearing. These disorders can range from stuttering and autism spectrum disorders to sensory ailments like blindness and deafness, and can vary greatly from child to child. As further explained by Psychology Today, communication disorders can negatively affect their vocabulary, ability to formulate sentences, voice quality, flow of speech, and interpretation of sounds — to name just a few symptoms.

How Can You Support Your Students?

While students with communication disorders may have a disadvantage in the classroom, you as their teacher can help them overcome any obstacles they may face in class with patience and compassion. That said, here are some key ways to support your students.

Be a Good Model

As a teacher, you are seen as a source of inspiration and motivation for your students. Indeed, a study conducted by Harvard Graduate School of Education researchers found that a student’s attitude and behavior is directly influenced by a teacher’s effectiveness. This holds especially true for students who have difficulty communicating, as they’ll look up to you as speech models. Simply put, you can show them that good communication skills are beneficial.

To be a good model, you should always remember to speak slowly and clearly. Moreover, try to observe if they’re following your behavior. For instance, if your student answers with just one word or a phrase, try asking them to improve their answer with a complete sentence.

Patience is a Virtue

Patience is a skill that teachers practice with their students. However, when educating students with communication disorders, being patient can make all the difference for their learning success. From speaking too fast or too slow, to repeating words or staying silent for too long, it’s important to recognize what challenges they’ll face at the start so you can guide them to move forward instead of being frustrated and stuck.

To this end, give them more time to formulate their thoughts and put them into words during a class discussion. But try not to interrupt them by finishing their sentences. Instead, you should maintain eye contact to let them know you are supporting them.

Use Technology to Your Advantage

With today’s technology, teachers can certainly make use of the latest digital tools to help them help their students. Chances are, your students have an iPad they use for fun, but why not turn this into an educational tool, too?

While encouraging your students to use their iPads may sound counter-intuitive at first, this tech tool enhances the visual and auditory responses during their learning experience. Dr. Meaghan Goodman, an ASHA-certified speech language pathologist and director of Maryville University’s communication sciences and disorders degree program was one of the pioneers for using iPads in the classroom. Speaking to the Lawrence World Journal she said “They loved the cool factor of it; they look forward to speech therapy. When they see me coming in to class, they are like, ‘Oh yes, she’s got the iPad.’”

Moreover, colors, sounds, and animations can keep your students engaged with the material, and therefore respond better in the classroom. Case in point: Our Integrating Technology in the Classroom Toolkit utilizes assistive technology, so your students can process information with more ease. Plus, speech therapy apps like Speech Tutor and Keyword Understanding simplify lessons, which can help them process information with more ease.

Build Their Confidence

For many students, having difficulty with communication skills also means having lower levels of self-esteem. After all, the classroom isn’t exactly an ideal setting, as other kids might have a tendency to tease or even bully. Not to mention, we’ve previously shared how students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders may act out when they feel unfairly treated. Thankfully, as their teacher, you can help create a safe environment for your students with learning disabilities.

Jo Boaler, a professor of mathematics education at Stanford University, and Tanya Lemar, a doctoral student at the same school, note that students tend to feel disconnected to their teachers when they believe they don’t have the potential to succeed. In this regard, you can help boost the confidence of your students with communication disorders by fostering community and promoting respect in the classroom. Not only will this help them feel a sense of belonging, but their peers will also learn to be kinder people overall.

Sarah Hewitt is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer who developed a deep love for learning at a young age. Having teachers as parents, she quickly became fascinated with how the proper educational tools and material can create a better, brighter future for anyone. When she’s not busy reading up on the latest innovations in education, you can find her watercolor painting in her mini art studio.

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