Dept. of Education Issues New Guidelines for Students with Disabilities


All too often, students with disabilities are subjected to cruel and unusual punishments by school staff and faculty members who lack the training, patience and resources to manage their behavioral challenges.

Take for example, the case of a 13-year-old boy with autism in California, whose face-down restraint by three school employees resulted in his death in 2018; or the 2022 case of a nonverbal first grader in Texas who was being physically abused by his teacher and teacher’s aide for months.

Equally heinous is when school boards cover up the mistreatment of disabled students. For example, earlier this year, the Bedford Central School District Board of Education failed to notify the parents of nonverbal disabled high school students that their naked photos (taken by other students in school bathrooms) were being circulated on social media.

As the 2022-2023 school year looms, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) have established new guidelines for elementary and secondary schools to “support students with disabilities and avoid discriminatory use of discipline.”

According to a press release by the Department of Education, “the newly released resources are the most comprehensive guidance on the civil rights of students with disabilities concerning student discipline and build on the Department’s continued efforts to support students and schools through pandemic recovery.”

Included in the guidelines are the following resources for educators, school administrators, parents and students:

“All students deserve to have their rights protected, and schools deserve greater clarity on how they can avoid the discriminatory use of discipline,” said Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “The guidance we’re releasing today will help ensure that students with disabilities are treated fairly and have access to supports and services to meet their needs—including their disability-based behavior. … These resources will also help schools live up to their legal obligations, support an equitable recovery for all our students, and make sure that students with disabilities get the behavioral supports and special education services they need to thrive.”

How to Teach Children to Include Classmates With Disabilities

How to Teach Children to Include Classmates With Disabilities

School is back in session, and if you have a school-aged child, there is a high chance they will encounter a classmate with disabilities. It’s essential to teach your child about children with special needs and how to treat them. Unfortunately, many adults tend to feel awkward about acknowledging another person’s disabilities and, if they’re not careful, they can pass this attitude on to their children. Even if you don’t say things that are rude when talking about a person with disabilities, your child may pick up on your avoidance of the topic or your lack of understanding of people who are different.

Today, there are approximately 61 million Americans with disabilities. Ignoring them or avoiding them isn’t an option for adults or children. Instead, we need to learn how to include them and get to know them as we would any other person. As a parent, it’s crucial to help your child understand this and learn how to apply this knowledge in the classroom. But even if you agree about the importance of teaching kids about disabilities, it can sometimes be difficult to know where to start.

How Parents Can Teach Children About Peers With Special Needs

Some conversations will happen on the fly as your child observes people with special needs in their classroom, at a restaurant or in a store. It’s also important to address this topic with them outside of those moments. These conversations will teach them how to respond when they meet someone with different needs than them. Read on for tips on how to encourage your child to include students with disability in the classroom and outside the classroom.

1. Educate Your Kids and Share the Basics With Them

A great way to help young children understand disabilities is to make use of your local library. There are many great children’s books that talk about people with special needs and teach children how to engage with them. You can also look for online videos or television shows that positively portray people with special needs. Sesame Street does a great job of this and can be a great video resource for younger children.

One thing parents often forget is that videos and books are more effective if you take the time to talk about them with your child after they read or view them. Ask what they think, how they feel and how they can apply what they learned in everyday situations. If your child has a classmate with a disability, this is a great time to make the connection between the material they just encountered and the individual they see every day.

2. You Don’t Have to Explain Every Last Detail

Every child is different. This means they’ll process information differently. Children — especially younger ones — may easily become overwhelmed or confused if given too much information. The goal here is not to turn your child into an expert on disabilities. The goal is simply to help them realize that every child is different and those differences should be celebrated, not avoided.

3. Teach Your Child That Everyone Is Different

Every person — with or without disabilities — is unique. Embracing others’ differences is an essential life skill. Even if they aren’t interacting with a special needs child daily, make it a point to encourage your child to interact with a variety of playmates. Seek out opportunities for them to engage with others who are different from them. And, perhaps most important of all, allow them to see you engaging with adults of various backgrounds and abilities. When this practice is modeled to them from the beginning, they will have an easier time understanding its practical applications when they encounter classmates with special needs.

4. Emphasize That Just Because Someone Has a Physical Disability Doesn’t Mean They Can’t Do Something

A child who has a disability or physical limitation is still a person who enjoys activities and engaging with others their age. They want to be loved and accepted by their peers, but may simply require special accommodation to do so. As your child grows, teach them the importance of giving all students a chance to participate in activities. Encourage them to invite their classmates who have special needs to join in playground games and extracurricular activities when appropriate. If they aren’t sure what’s okay or their friend requires special accommodation, encourage your child to ask a teacher how to best include and assist their friend. It’s better to ask for an explanation than make incorrect assumptions and leave people out.

5. Teach Patience

Another thing to help your child understand is that children with special needs can often do the same things as their peers — it just takes them a little bit longer. Patience goes a long way toward building friendships and including others. If your child understands their classmate’s disability, it will be easier for them to display patience if they move slower or take longer to understand a game or activity.

6. Remind Your Child That Everyone Wants to Have Friends

If children don’t know any better, they may assume that a classmate who has difficulty communicating verbally or who cannot engage in physical activity does not want or need friends. Explain to your child that this assumption is false. Even children who are unable to communicate their needs or participate in certain activities still long for love and acceptance. As you talk with your child about their peers with special needs, it’s important to focus on the things they have in common with your child, rather than their differences. Remind them that everyone wants to have friends and be included. Even if their body doesn’t allow them to walk, run or speak, they are still human, and they love having friends who care for them.

7. Educate Yourself

To help your child develop a healthy and age-appropriate understanding of how to help special needs students in the classroom, it’s important to educate yourself first. Researching these topics can help you become more informed. If you know any specifics about the special needs of any of your child’s classmates, you can look more closely into these areas. However, it’s not necessary to become an expert. Your child isn’t looking for a lecture or to be overwhelmed with facts. Your child is simply looking to you to help them understand what’s going on and how to treat others with compassion.

8. Explain Adaptive Equipment

You can also discuss adaptive equipment with your kids. Explain how people with disabilities use extra tools to help them. While you describe the equipment, you could provide common examples, like:

In addition, you could talk about other helpful tools for people with disabilities, like designated parking spaces or wheelchair ramps.

By teaching kids to recognize adaptive equipment, they can be more understanding when seeing it in the future. You can also explain how to treat people that use the equipment. You can explain that the equipment is helpful for kids with disabilities and that you should treat it with respect.

9. Make Sure Kids Ask Before Helping

Many kids like to be helpers at school. From wanting to be the line leader to volunteering to pass out materials, these children want to assist their peers and teachers in any way they can. However, it’s important to teach your students to ask before trying to aid a child with a disability. If they try to help before getting permission, it could worsen the situation.

For instance, a student might want to comfort an upset child with special needs. The student could think a hug would help the child, but it might make them feel more uncomfortable.

Instead, you can teach your students to ask before jumping in with assistance. Asking a quick question like “Is there anything I can do to help?” can help people with disabilities set boundaries and accept the help they need. That way, they can stay more comfortable within the classroom.

10. Focus on Similarities

Another great approach for explaining disabilities to students is to focus on similarities. Instead of only explaining the differences, point out shared interests or traits between people with disabilities and everyone else. You could talk about similarities like:

  • Favorite subjects
  • Common hobbies
  • Hair colors
  • Favorite foods

As kids realize what they have in common with people with disabilities, it becomes easier to relate to them. This practice can help with empathy development, encouraging kids to experience someone else’s point of view.

How to Interact With Someone Who Has Special Needs

Your child will also look to you to model how to interact with a classmate who has special needs. Wondering how kids can include classmates with special needs? These tips can help.

1. Remember That Everyone Is Human

At the core of it all is the understanding that everyone is human. We all want acceptance and to engage with others. How do you show this to a child? Model this behavior in your interactions with everyone you meet. The way you treat the cashier at the grocery store, the crossing guard in front of your child’s school, and the other parents you encounter in the carpool line will go a long way toward teaching your child that every human being is valuable. If they see this modeled by their parents, they will be more likely to emulate this behavior with all of their classmates, regardless of any special needs they might have.

With younger children, play is a valuable tool for understanding and connecting with others. Young children form relationships through play and can develop a better understanding of their special needs peers when they engage together through play. Look for opportunities for your young child to engage and interact with other children and adults who are different from them.

2. Be Yourself

A common question children and adults have about engaging with special needs students is “How do I interact with them?” The short answer to this question is: Just be yourself! A child’s disability does not necessarily change their ability to respond to others around them. For instance, a child with speech and language disabilities can still participate in conversations with others using their adaptive equipment.

At the same time, there’s no need for your child to go overboard trying to engage with them. A child who tends to be quiet but loves to help might do better by offering assistance to a special needs peer during a classroom activity. A child who tends to be more talkative and outgoing may choose to engage in conversation with their special needs peer. Encourage your child to find ways to engage with their classmate that are reflective of their personality. Although everyone should step out of their comfort zone from time to time, there’s no reason your child has to change their personality or do things that they wouldn’t even do with their other classmates.

3. Recognize Boundaries

Although it’s important for children to be inclusive of others, it’s also vital that they learn to understand that their classmates may have boundaries and struggles that don’t always go well with your child’s personality. For example, autistic children don’t usually like to be touched. An affectionate child might like to hug or touch other children, but a child with special needs might not welcome touches. Because children spend so much time in the classroom together, they often pick up on these preferences just from watching their classmates. However, it’s still important to remind them to be alert and aware of how their behavior can affect their classmates.

If your child has a classmate who uses a wheelchair to get around the school, teach them to consider the wheelchair to be an extension of their classmate’s body. That means that it’s not okay to lean on the wheelchair, destroy or deface it in any way or ask to ride in it. They should also never grab for the chair or attempt to push their classmate without permission.

4. Use the Universal Language of Music

In some cases, music can be a great way to bridge the gap between classmates of varying abilities and needs. Even if a child is non-verbal or has physical limitations, they can still connect with music because it is universally understood across the world. They can enjoy the antics and voices of their classmates, and they can connect with the words, even to silly songs. As children grow older, they may also be able to bond over the love of a particular genre of music or a band they both enjoy. This can be especially helpful for tweens and teens who are looking for ways to connect with a classmate with special needs.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Talk

Even if your child has a classmate who is non-verbal, you can encourage them to engage in conversation with them. Engaging in conversation with another person demonstrates an interest in them and helps to establish a connection. Your child can tell stories or ask about their day. Remind them that it doesn’t have to turn into a 20-minute discussion. Even taking 30 seconds to say “hello” or telling a brief story about something that happened at the bus stop that morning can go a long way.

That being said, teach your child to be sensitive to their classmates if they have any hearing loss or sensory issues because conversation in a crowded or loud space may do more harm than good. Guide them to look for opportunities to talk in quiet face-to-face settings, such as during assignments that require students to choose a partner to complete them or inviting them to play an educational game during a free period.

Parents of special needs students are typically receptive to questions from their child’s classmates. These questions give them the opportunity to inform others and help them develop a more accurate understanding of what makes their child unique. It doesn’t take a well-scripted list of questions to approach another parent. Many times, a simple “Hello” is all you need to open the door to conversation.

6. Recognize Limitations

Children of all ages and stages have their limits. In children with special needs, these limitations are often magnified because of the physical or sensory issues associated with certain conditions. Talk with your child about recognizing these limits in their peers with special needs. For example, they may have a classmate who is deaf. That student may not be able to follow a conversation in spoken English, but they can still engage in active play at recess. Your child could also learn a few basic signs so that they can communicate with them.

If your child has a classmate with autism spectrum disorder, you may want to prepare them for witnessing their classmate having a meltdown or episode where they seem to be out of control. When these outbursts happen, children without disabilities can often misunderstand them. Children might react by making fun of or becoming scared of their special needs classmates. But the truth is that these outbursts are simply a part of their disability. It’s the teacher’s responsibility to prevent and mitigate these outbursts, not the children’s. But your child can cultivate an understanding attitude toward what’s happening and not allow it to mar their opinion of their classmate.

How Can Teachers Make the Classroom Inclusive?

Parents can and should play an active role in teaching their children how to treat others and how to get along with others who are different than them. But teachers have a valuable role to play in working with special needs children as well.

1. Accommodate Lessons to Ensure Everyone’s Needs Are Met

It might go without saying, but for teachers to accommodate their students’ needs, they must first understand those needs and limitations. Teachers should follow the same guidelines as children and parents by educating themselves on their students’ special needs, boundaries and limitations.

Once a teacher has a good handle on what their students’ needs are, then they can develop lesson plans that find creative ways to meet them. Make a point to coordinate with the school’s specialists, including occupational therapists, speech therapists, school psychologists, special education instructors and reading specialists. You can work together to build inclusive lessons that will provide the needed accommodations for all students.

While a teacher may need to make certain alterations to accommodate a student’s special needs, it’s essential to keep the general theme of the lesson the same for everyone. By engaging them in the same topics and basic activities, you promote an inclusive atmosphere for everyone in the class. When your students have a common goal, they’ll engage with each other more effectively and feel more like a cohesive group.

Depending on your students’ needs, you may also have an additional teacher in the classroom to assist them. Or, you might use specialized technology to obtain information in an alternative fashion. For example, a student who is deaf or hard of hearing may require a visual translation of the lesson or a seat up front to read lips during a lecture. If another teacher is assigned to work with one of the students in the classroom, work closely with them. That way, you can both adequately prepare to instruct the class and meet individual needs.

2. Avoid Stereotypes

Whether you’ve been teaching for two months or twenty years, you may have formed some preconceived notions about special needs students and how to interact with them. In some cases, these ideas may have been informed by stereotypes and long-ago incidents that served to inform and reinforce those stereotypes. Although it may not feel natural at first, make a point to check those conceptions at the door and start fresh.

When it comes to including and instructing students with special needs, teachers should refrain from allowing past experiences to inform their current situation. Remember that each of your students — regardless of their physical and mental abilities — is a human being. They each learn differently. They each have different likes and dislikes. They each have different ways of engaging with the world around them. As you know, part of a teacher’s goal is oftentimes to learn about their students and what makes them tick. Then, they can apply their training and knowledge to the business of helping them learn.

3. Maintain a Positive Attitude

There are just some days that staying positive in the classroom is really tough, but it’s important to maintain perspective and focus on the big picture. Believe each student is capable of succeeding and regularly evaluate your teaching plan for better ways to do this.

It’s also important to accept responsibility for the learning outcomes in your classroom. Although some students struggle more than others, there’s no benefit to blaming the student or their disability for their lack of understanding. There is no such thing as a waste of time. Regardless of how they engage with their class or what information they retain in the long run, your role is to teach them something they didn’t know before and prepare them for what’s ahead.

4. Maintain an Inclusive Atmosphere at All Times

Children will mimic the behavior they see in the adults around them. If a teacher includes all students in activities and strives to maintain an inclusive atmosphere in the classroom, then students will follow suit. If a teacher excludes certain students from certain activities or shows a preference for those they think are “smarter” or “better,” then they risk cultivating a divisive classroom.

A great way to create an inclusive environment is to incorporate games and interactive activities into lesson plans. This helps students learn about each other’s strengths and understand their personalities. It’s also a great way to develop unity among students. When children have fun together, it helps them grow closer to each other, regardless of their abilities.

5. Have Adaptive Equipment and Assistive Technology in the Classroom

Some of this may depend on your students’ individual needs, but having the appropriate adaptive equipment and assistive technology available in the classroom goes a long way toward effective instruction. Using assistive technology in the classroom ensures that students with varying levels of ability can be included in a variety of activities. It also helps to promote inclusion by ensuring no student is left out. Not sure what kind of equipment you need? Check out our wide variety of products and classroom kits.

6. Talk About Disabilities With Students in a Healthy Way

Lastly, remember to keep all classroom discussions about disabilities healthy and positive. Teachers can help students form positive feelings about peers with disabilities, instead of fear or awkwardness.

For instance, you could encourage healthy communication strategies like:

  • Humanize others: When students notice children who are different from them, inspire them to treat them like other classmates. For instance, you could tell students to introduce themselves and ask questions. Remind them of the similarities between everyone despite appearances.
  • Normalize confusion: Your students might feel confused about the best way to include or speak to kids with disabilities. Let them know that confusion is okay, but it’s important to overcome it and welcome others.
  • Use respect: Emphasize that respect is the most important aspect of all interactions. While it’s okay to ask questions, remind students that everyone’s feelings should come first. They should treat every person they meet with respect and think about how their words might impact others.

Taking a healthy approach to students with disabilities in the classroom can help you maintain a positive environment.

Assistive Technology Products and Classroom Kits from Enabling Devices

With the proper support, children who have special needs can thrive in the classroom environment. For more than three decades, Enabling Devices has worked with parents, teachers and special needs individuals to develop exceptional, high-quality products that help special needs individuals succeed in the classroom, the workplace and at home. Our ultimate goal is to help everyone we work with to live a full life and experience the joy of being able to fully engage in the world around them.

Ready to help your child or student thrive in the classroom? Browse our wide selection of products online or contact one of our representatives for help finding what you need.

Assistive Technology Products and Classroom Kits from Enabling Devices

Shop Smarter with our Skills Development Chart

2021 Goals Chart

In some parts of the United States, school has already begun. Elsewhere, teachers, parents and students are preparing to head back to their classrooms.

If you’re a parent with a child in occupational, speech or physical therapy or a teacher or clinician working with students who learn differently, you’re probably thinking about how to create the best educational environment for your child, student or client this year. Enabling Devices is thinking about that too. We’ve updated our Adapted Therapeutic Learning—Skills Development Chart to reflect new products as well as tried-and-true toys and educational products, designed to help children find success in school.

The chart comprises 19 areas of skill development and shows which of those skills different Enabling Devices products address. It also defines learning skills for customers who aren’t teachers and therapists and may not be familiar with terms related to skill development. For example, the chart explains that toys that address directionality teach children about moving forward, backward, right, left, up or down, while toys that address cause-and-effect, teach children that particular actions create particular responses. In sum, this resource takes the guesswork out of choosing toys and educational products for children with special learning needs.

For example, if you’re looking for something to help children learn about simple cause-and-effect, increase eye hand coordination, and improve fine motor coordination, then our Sound Puzzles would be a good choice. Like all our toys, it’s also entertaining, so kids will enjoy learning.

Or if you are looking for something that increases visual attention and tracking, sensory awareness, auditory development, and listening skills, our Tic-Tac-Toe game might be exactly what you need.

The Compact Activity Center is a popular choice for parents, teachers and clinicians looking for a device that helps with finger isolation, increases tactile stimulation, and encourages reaching, swiping and grasping.

Planning to create a sensory space in your home or classroom? The chart includes many of the toys and devices you will need, including Somatosensory Tubes; Twirling Bead Chain; and our Disco Ball.

We hope the updated chart will help you to choose the best products for your special learners. Yet as always, Enabling Devices staff members are more than happy to speak with you about your students and their individual learning needs. We are available to provide advice about creating a sensory learning space, and to provide counsel from a dedicated occupational therapy consultant. We can also provide advice for classroom bundles such as our kit for the visually impaired; and our autism spectrum disorder kit. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Talking with parents, teachers, and clinicians is one of the best parts of our job!

Back-to-School Tips & Themes for Special Education Teachers

Back-to-School Tips & Themes for Special Education Teachers

Back to school time means preparing yourself and your room for a new group of students. Whether this year is your first teaching special education or you’ve been in the field for years, you still can use some helpful tips and ideas. Check out these ways to make your classroom fun and interactive as well as tips for keeping your cool throughout the year.

Tips for a Special Education Teacher

Start the year off right by reorienting your mind for the new school year with some handy tips for teaching special needs students. You don’t want to leave anything out of the planning stages, so your room will be ready for your students on the first day. These tips will keep you on task with the most important things to do and remember when starting the new year.

1. Communicate & Keep People Informed

Communication is critical in any teaching position, but it becomes especially important for special education teachers. You will need to maintain open communication channels with parents, school administration and coworkers who will also work with your students. These people all have essential roles in helping your students learn and thrive in your classroom. In fact, communication is so vital that it may be mandated by law by keeping up with individualized education programs (IEPs).

2. Review & Prepare Tools for Your Students’ IEPs

Your students’ IEPs outline the accommodations you need to make for each student’s learning needs in the classroom, extracurricular doings and nonacademic activities. These documents are critical to your success with your students. Knowing how you need to modify your classroom and teaching will help when you create lesson plans for your special needs students.

If possible, generate one-page summaries of each IEP. These summaries will help you learn about your students’ needs. The single-page references will make it easier to review information quickly from the IEPs in the future.

review students ieps

While reviewing each student’s IEP, add important dates for the student’s milestones, meetings and deadlines into your calendar. Doing this at the beginning of the year will ensure you don’t miss significant events in any of your students’ learning schedules.

Keep a list of supplies you will need for your classroom to fulfill the requirements in the IEPs. Because your students will have different needs, look for products that make learning more accessible to them.

3. Establish Daily and Weekly Schedules


You will need to establish regular schedules for your students. Having a routine will help your students feel more secure, understand expectations, increase student engagement and reduce behavior issues. The repetitive nature of an established schedule in your classroom gives your students the chance to learn what to anticipate.

Special education teacher organization becomes vital when you try to maintain a set routine with your students. But when you have an established schedule, planning your days happens faster because you can set out materials for several lessons or days in advance. Routines make organizing your classroom easier and help you better prepare for every learning opportunity.

When you organize your classroom and have lesson materials ready, your students won’t need to wait for you and possibly lose focus. Students who know what to expect, especially those who have conditions like autism that increase rigidity in thinking patterns, will be more prepared to learn during the given lessons.

Don’t be too rigid in your routine, though. Fire drills, canceled school days and other unexpected events can happen to delay your plans. Be flexible enough that such incidents don’t derail your lesson plans. Even after a disruption, you should return to the routine as soon as possible to help your students feel safer in the predictability of the schedule.

4. Remember Every Day Is a New Day

All teachers get frustrated during their work. You may benefit from compartmentalizing each day. Don’t carry stresses from one day to the next. It can be easy to remember yesterday’s meltdowns, but it’s important to start each day fresh and not bring up past bad behavior.

Just because you treat each day as a new beginning, you still need to keep your students accountable for their actions. Don’t wait to discipline a student. If you do it the following day, neither of you remembers the incident well enough for the consequences to have an effect. Instead, correct student behaviors the moment they do them. Once corrected, move on from the event.

If you need professional help, don’t wait to talk to another teacher or seek out special needs teaching resources. Online sources from experts will help you with tips for classroom management and behavior issues you may experience.

To maintain your mental health, keep a positive outlook. Separate yourself from your stresses at the end of the day by finding something rewarding to engage in. Whether you exercise, visit friends or have a hobby, find some means of building yourself up and resetting your stress levels at the end of the day or during the weekends. By taking care of your needs, you will be better prepared to take care of your students and their requirements.

Tips for Designing Spaces Intentionally in Special Education Classrooms

When setting up your classroom, you need to do so intentionally. Every piece you have and its placement must fulfill a role in your teaching. Even the special education theme ideas you use need to relate to your instruction. Find out some handy tips for making your room beautiful and practical.

1. Keep It Age-Appropriate

Though you will likely have students of varying ages and abilities, you still need to keep your classroom age-appropriate. The students will probably have a specific age range, such as 5-to-12-year old children or teenagers. Use these age groups to find appropriate room decorations.

Also, wait until after you review the IEPs before decorating your room. You need to know the needs of your students before choosing classroom materials and décor for them. Some students may need visuals, educational devices or seating that differs from their peers’ needs or those of a general classroom.

2. Space Is Critical

Perhaps more important than the furnishings and devices in your classroom layout for your special needs students is the unused space. You will need space to move around as well as allowing your students free movement.

When setting up a classroom for special needs students, allow for different spaces with specific uses, such as a calming area, teaching area, reading area, play area and individual learning area.

Calming Space in Special Needs Classroom

A calming area will give your students a place to relax when they feel overwhelmed. Include a comfortable place to sit such as a swing, rug or bean bag chair. This area could also serve as a sensory space or center in an autism classroom.

Sensory Space or Sensory Room for Special Education Classroom

space is critical

In a sensory space or room, you want to have objects that appeal to four different needs — tactile, visual stimulation, vestibular and transition.

In addition to having a place for students to calm themselves, also allow room for a group area. Here, you can conduct class lessons and have student presentations.

Teaching Area in Special Needs Classroom

The teaching area includes your desk and personal workspace. Teach students about respecting the boundaries around your desk by correcting them if they try to slip into your area.

Play Space for Special Education Classroom

Don’t forget that students need to play. Having a play area gives your students an outlet for their energy and a way to interact with adaptive or adapted toys. Also, consider adding activity centers to the play area. These toys have a variety of actions the students can do to stimulate multiple senses. Additionally, you can browse our products by your teaching goals in our menu — activate, communicate, develop, educate and play.

Older students who engage in reading and writing will need an area for these activities. Have a bookshelf for books, and nearby, keep a supply area of paper, pencils and other writing supplies.

Individual Learning Area for Special Education

Student desks give your classroom members space of their own. This space provides them a working area as well as an escape if they need individual time. Instruct students to return to their desks as a transition during your routine when you need to set up a new area.

3. Match the Room to Your Teaching Style

How do you teach? Do you use one board or two? Do your students sit individually or in groups? Arrange your classroom to complement and enhance your teaching methods.

If you have students regularly work in groups, do they work on the floor in a circle or collaborate at tables? Should you have students do individual work more often, allow plenty of comfortable space for them around their desks.

4. Make It a Fun Environment so Students Feel Comfortable

You want any special education teacher themes you use to be fun and applicable to your students. Using bright colors makes matching up decorations easier. Green, yellow, red and blue are good colors to choose.

If you want a basic color scheme rather than using specific special education classroom decorating ideas, use a different color for each area of your room. Classroom kits in each area of your room can assist with teaching.

These and other fun activities for special education teachers will make your class more enjoyable and accessible to all your students. If you prefer a theme, consider the following special education classroom designs.

Special Education Room Themes: A Room for Everyone

Are you interested in using room themes for your classroom? If so, think through if you would like to make regular changes to your classroom’s appearance. Will you have the time to make seasonal changes to your room? Or do you want to change it based on current lesson themes?

Choosing age-appropriate themes becomes critical for creating a space that will benefit your students instead of distracting them. Your room layout should still have separate working areas. These spaces will guide your placement of themed decorations. Need some inspiration or tips? Check out these ideas for special needs classrooms.

1. Camping Theme

Back to school themes for special education may include aspects of summer or look forward to the new school year. Even students who have never slept in a tent can appreciate a summer tie-in with a camping theme. You can also use this at the end of the year as a kick-off to vacation.

Set up your teacher’s desk as the “Park Headquarters” or “Ranger’s Station” with a sign on the front and a ranger’s hat on the desktop or hung on the wall behind.

Call the reading area or the group work area the campfire. You can use colored light to replicate a campfire. If you already have a tent in your sensory area, you may use that in the campfire area.

Bring in potted plants to make the whole classroom feel like it’s outside. Even if you don’t have a forest around you, the greenery will bring a bit of nature into your room. Your theme could have an extra benefit.

camping theme

Greenery in your room may have an added benefit of encouraging student engagement. In one study, adding plants as part of a behavioral intervention through classroom design significantly improved student performance. The classroom had at least one special needs student. Before the intervention, student engagement hovered around 3% of the time. After adding plants, changing the seating arrangement and improving the classroom layout, students increased their engagement to 45% of the time.

2. Seasons Theme

seasons theme

If you feel ambitious, consider a seasons theme that will need changing four times a year. Because the room changes a few times a year, students get the interest of looking at new décor without the stress of changes that occur too frequently.

You don’t have to add decorations for holidays like the Fourth of July or Valentine’s Day. To make this theme easier for yourself, keep each season generic. The fewer specifics you have for the season, the less often you will have to take down and put up new decorations.

For summer, try a beach theme. Beach balls in the sensory or play area, sunglasses on your desk and beach towels for the students to sit on are a few ways to customize your room.

Fall décor can include fall landscapes. Continue the theme by using orange, brown and red color schemes in your classroom’s learning areas.

Winter themes may but don’t have to include holidays. Focus on a snow theme to stretch out this theme long after winter break.

Just as you don’t have to have Christmas decorations during the winter, you also don’t need Easter decorations for your spring theme. But you can still have bunnies, flowers and pastel colors.

If you have a bulletin board, consider putting up a paper tree and changing the leaves with the seasons.

3. World Theme

A world theme is an ideal tie-in to your geography lesson plans. You can set up each section of your classroom as a separate “country” with items to show the geography and culture of the area. This theme teaches your students the names of some countries while giving them a fun cultural activity.

Give students passports to check-in at each station in your room. They can collect a sticker from each “country” they visit until they fill their passport.

4. Crayon Theme

Bright colors around your classroom make a visually appealing learning environment while teaching your students about art. Use a dominant color for each section of your class and shades of that color for accessories. Doing so teaches students about the variety of colors in the spectrum.

You can expand this theme from just crayons to art by incorporating art supplies or kits into the different areas of your classroom. Encourage creativity by incorporating art projects into your lessons. Painting, drawing, coloring, clay molding and similar projects encourage tactile and visual stimulation. Of course, you want to adapt the plans to your students’ learning needs.

5. City Theme

city theme

Label each of the areas of your classroom with different buildings in a city. Refer to these places when giving students directions to add to the fun.

For example, name your desk “city hall.” As the head of the classroom, you have a job similar to a town mayor.

The play area can be the “park” or “public pool.” Just as residents of a town play at a park, your students will use the play area for recreation.

Student desks can be “downtown” because students work there just as people work in a downtown region. The correlations between these two locations can increase with the addition of tape on the floor around the desks to resemble city streets.

For classrooms with a reading and writing area, label it the “library” if your students use it more for reading. For writing, call it the “town newspaper.”

When you call your students to the group work area for lessons, refer to it as the “community center.” Residents of a town usually meet in such a place to collaborate on ideas, just as your students do when they come to the group work area of your room.

Browse the Lineup From Enabling Devices to Get Inspired

If you need more ideas for your room themes, browse through our products at Enabling Devices. We offer classroom decorations, toys, educational objects and much more to help you give your students the best education possible. You’ll even find special education classroom resources and ideas here.

Don’t start the year without equipping your classroom with the products your students will need to have an accessible learning experience. You’ll find everything you need at Enabling Devices.


Remote Learning: It’s Here to Stay

Remote Learning Blog

It’s been nearly a year since schools shut down and students, teachers and parents began the challenging transition to online learning. While most experts agree that re-opening schools is critical for students and their parents, many believe that online learning in some form is here to stay.

According to research by the Rand Corporation, “About two in ten districts have already adopted, plan to adopt, or are considering adopting virtual school as part of their district portfolio after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

So, what will that mean for students with special needs? That depends.

Here are some of the pros and cons of virtual and hybrid learning models:


1. Safety First
Having an online learning option may benefit children who are medically fragile, especially until the threat of infection from COVID-19 is completely eradicated.

2. Flexibility
Online learning offers a level of flexibility that may benefit families and students with frequent medical and therapy appointments and those for whom traveling back and forth to school is stressful and/or time-consuming.

3. Therapeutic benefit
Some therapists see value in remote treatment because it gives them the opportunity to observe students in their home environments. Likewise, students can benefit from the opportunity to practice activities of daily living at home where they may need to use them the most.

4. Greater awareness about educational inequities
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the many inequities that exist in our education system. Those hit hardest by these inequities tend to be the poor and the disabled. “But some families and their advocates are hopeful that the pandemic could prompt a reckoning and systemic change,” writes Cayla Bamberger for the Hechinger Report. “During distance learning, educators have needed to get creative to reach all their students, leading to new ways of collaborating with parents and approaches to instruction that education experts say could be integrated into how schools operate going forward.” Now that many of us have become more aware of the systemic problems, there are opportunities to make positive change.   


1. Learning is less individualized
Individual attention can be hard to come by in Zoom classes. As special education teacher Avam Rips told, “Part of what makes special education unique is that teachers create individualized education plans for each student. That’s harder to do when classes are held virtually; teachers have no choice but to turn to a “one-size-fits-all” model.”

2. Delivery of therapy services is challenging
During the pandemic, many children with disabilities missed out on the therapeutic services they need to thrive. According to Education Week, “Some special education students have gone months without occupational, physical, and speech therapy services and other supports. In districts that provided virtual therapy, parents were pressed into duty, forced to try to replicate the therapy that trained specialists would normally provide in school.” Hopefully, these issues will be resolved post-pandemic when schools are again able to provide in-person therapies.

3. Social skills development suffers
Children with social skills deficits may lose out on opportunities to practice social skills when they are learning remotely. Due to school closures, many parents of children with special needs are concerned that their social skills have regressed in the past year.

4. Remote and hybrid education models lack consistency
For many students with special needs, structure is key. Remote and hybrid schedules can be too disorganizing for children who require schedules and routine to feel safe and comfortable.

5. Stress on parents
Remote and hybrid education can be extremely stressful for parents, especially working parents and parents of children with special needs. To provide their children with the best care, parents of special needs kids need time to refuel while their children are in school.

Strategies and Tips for Teaching Kids With ADHD

Strategies and Tips for Teaching Kids With ADHD

ADHD — one of the most common childhood neurodevelopmental disorders — is typically identified in children after they begin attending school. Today, an estimated 6.1 million U.S. children have an ADHD diagnosis.

While an official ADHD diagnosis comes from a medical professional, teachers play a role in helping students with ADHD learn to adapt and overcome the limitations this disorder presents. Whether you’re a special education teacher or a teacher with a student with ADHD in a general education classroom, the challenges of effectively teaching a student with ADHD can be significant. From issues with classroom management to a lack of support from administrators or parents, there are many reasons teachers may struggle to provide adequate help for the students who really need it.

The good news is that even with those challenges, it is possible for students with ADHD — and their teachers — to thrive every day. By making some small, impactful changes to classroom activities and overall attitudes, a teacher has the opportunity to positively impact their students with ADHD for many years to come.

The Challenges of Teaching Students With ADHD

ADHD can magnify the typical challenges that are faced in a general education classroom, especially in school districts where there is a lack of funding or a shortage of qualified teachers. In these cases, teachers tend to be overworked or overwhelmed because they are working with students they may feel unqualified to teach.

The following are specific areas where teachers may experience difficulty when teaching students with ADHD:

1. Paperwork

Teachers of students with ADHD may devote a lot of time to developing and maintaining an up-to-date Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to track a student’s progress and identify potential problems. Keeping track of a student’s progress is essential to their success in school because this is often how problems are addressed. But the amount of time and paperwork IEPs require can weigh down even the most experienced teachers.

In some cases, a special education teacher may oversee IEPs for students in several general education classes, checking in with their teachers for updates on academic progress and seeing students a few times a week for additional help. In other cases, students with ADHD may have other disabilities that require them to spend their school days in special education classrooms. In both cases, teachers must maintain accurate and up-to-date paperwork to define goals and track progress.

For special education teachers who don’t see each student with ADHD on a daily basis, this can be especially challenging because they may have the added step of collecting information from one or more teachers to compile it into one file for each student.

2. Lack of Support

Some teachers may face a lack of support from the parents of students with ADHD. When there is a lack of expectations and consistency at home, learning strategies and routines a teacher tries to implement in the classroom may not be effective. Parents who are unable or unwilling to maintain regular communication and support a teacher’s classroom expectations can also make it more difficult for teachers to make progress with their students.

In other cases, the lack of support may come from the school’s administration or the school district as a whole. Many schools are tight on money, and administrators are being pressured to achieve more results with less funding. In some districts, special education programs may not have the funding they need to hire an adequate number of teachers or purchase the equipment they need to teach effectively. Teachers may be expected to keep up with a large number of students without having the time or money they need to be successful.

3. Scheduling

Finding the time to maintain communication with parents, complete paperwork, grade papers and teach can be difficult for teachers. Meetings must be scheduled during planning time or after school, cutting into a teacher’s time to update lesson plans or spend time with their family. Added to that are the challenges of scheduling IEP meetings that take parental and administration schedules into account, which can sometimes feel impossible.

4. Behavior Management

Behavior management is a big part of teaching a child with ADHD. Because of their disability, they may easily become frustrated with school and their teacher may often get the brunt of their frustration. Managing these emotions in a classroom setting can sometimes take time away from instruction or other daily activities. On a larger level, teaching a child with ADHD requires a lot of time and effort spent identifying their triggers and emotions and then teaching them how to control those emotions.

Teachers may also spend extra time figuring out the best way to present the material so these students can learn effectively. They may need to devote time to help students stay organized, maintain planners or homework calendars and create an organizational system that keeps their students on track and focused each day. Often, they need to maintain communication with parents on a regular basis, sending daily progress emails or making regular phone calls to parents to update them on their child’s behavior and progress.

Tips for Teaching Students With ADHD

Though teachers face several challenges when it comes to teaching students with ADHD, it’s possible to ease their burden and help students with ADHD succeed. The following are a few tips to help make effective shifts:

1. Establish Rules

Every good classroom has a short, simple list of rules to follow. These should be clearly laid out and posted from the beginning of the school year. Rules can be more effective for students with ADHD when they are incorporated into their daily routine. This can be done by incorporating strategies for ADHD classroom management into your daily schedule. For example, instead of simply saying, “No talking when you come to class,” tell students, “When you arrive, sit down quietly and begin the math problems on the board.” Consistently modeling this and other behaviors every day can go a long way toward teaching students what you expect.

2. Create a Routine

Routines are essential when teaching students with ADHD because they help students stay on task. For example, place homework assignments in the same spot every day or write them on the same place on the board, and take a few minutes at the end of class to go over them so students know what’s expected of them. Stick to the same basic daily schedule, and be sure to incorporate time to move around or engage in physical activity.

3. Make Learning Personalized

Though every child needs to receive the same educational material, they don’t all have to be taught the same way. Some students may struggle to sit still long enough to complete assignments, while others struggle more with organization and remembering to complete each step in an assignment.

Consider providing hands-on activities to present the material or allowing students to “teach” each other by breaking into small groups. Incorporating manipulatives and more interactive activities and games into the classroom may also keep students engaged and focused. It may be beneficial to break down an assignment into several smaller steps, providing students with a checklist they can mark when they complete each step.

4. Offer Choices

Many times, offering several choices for how to finish an assignment can produce better results and prevent negative emotions from overwhelming a student with ADHD. For example, if you want a student to practice a set of vocabulary words, allow them to choose between writing each word in a sentence, creating their own flashcards or air-writing each word. In math, you can give them choices between a worksheet, answering problems on the board or using a calculator to complete assignments.

5. Communicate Intentionally

With a classroom full of students, it can be easy to forget that each student is an individual. Taking the time to greet each student by name, inquire about their interests and answer their questions goes a long way toward their academic success, especially for students with ADHD.

Maintaining positive feedback is also important. For example, when a student with ADHD completes an assignment, use positive praise, such as “You’re doing a great job!” If they are exhibiting negative behavior in the classroom or struggling to keep up with schoolwork, ask questions like, “Is this a good choice?” or, “Let’s talk this through,” to get a positive conversation going.

6. Fit Assignments to Attention Span

Students with ADHD will likely struggle to complete long assignments. Be sure that they’re seated in an area in the classroom that provides minimal distractions, then make accommodations for finishing assignments, such as allowing them extra time to finish a test or allowing them to complete an assignment in stages rather than all at once.

Besides allowing accommodations for assignments, think about a student with ADHD as you’re planning assignments. Asking yourself, “Will this set them up for failure or success?” is a great way to start, and anticipating problems in advance gives you time to plan for alternatives or accommodations. This can also help avoid emotional meltdowns that might otherwise take away from instructional time.


7. Build in Time for Breaks

Allowing time for movement in between assignments, such as a bathroom break or recess, can go a long way toward helping students pay attention at the most important moments. If a student with ADHD needs opportunities for movement and its not time for a formal recess, consider asking them to run an errand to the office or help with a chore around the classroom. If it’s not possible to allow for breaks, allowing them to keep a manipulative, such as a squeeze ball, at their desk may also help them by giving them an alternative outlet for movement when they have to stay seated.


8. Integrate Movement and Mindfulness Into Lessons

Some of the common symptoms of ADHD — including lack of concentration, clumsiness, hyperactivity, distractability and nervousness — can get in the way of effective learning. Rather than fight against these symptoms, incorporate short times of movement and mindfulness into the day’s schedule. Activities like yoga, Zumba or even a short walk can improve focus and improve a student’s ability to sit through and comprehend the lesson of the day.

Similarly, mindfulness exercises can help students with ADHD focus on their thoughts and feelings. When they are better able to pay attention to their emotional state, they can better control themselves and prevent meltdowns or emotional outbursts later in the day.

9. Support Engagement and Participation

A teacher’s role is twofold — to present new material and to support children in their own discovery. The goal as a teacher isn’t to stand in front of the class and tell them things they need to know. It’s to encourage them to engage with the material being presented in a way they will remember it later. This is true for all teacher-student relationships, but it’s essential when teaching students with ADHD. This may be as simple as moving a child with ADHD to the front of the room where there are fewer distractions or pairing students with a homework buddy to offer accountability to ensure homework assignments aren’t forgotten or overlooked.

Teachers can also encourage student engagement by helping them get organized. Take note of potential pitfalls and address them. Does a student with ADHD regularly forget assignment due dates? Help them set up a planner and check it at the end of every day. Hang a large calendar in the classroom and use it to make note of important due dates. Does a student with ADHD lose assignments or forget to take the necessary supplies home each evening? You could create a color-coded folder system and put take-home assignments in the same color folder each day. You could also create a checklist of necessary materials and work with the student to check off necessary items each day before they leave school.


10. Reward Good Behavior

Some children with ADHD spend a lot of time being corrected or reprimanded for their negative behaviors. Praising good behavior and offering rewards when appropriate can make a huge difference in a child’s confidence. One of the best things a teacher can do is look for daily ways to encourage and praise a student with ADHD. Be on the lookout for daily behavior victories or a personal best on a test grade, and be sure to provide specific and immediate praise. Offering praise in the middle of the situation can go a long way in providing motivation and confidence to continue the behavior later.

Ease ADHD Classroom Management With Products From Enabling Devices

As a teacher, your days are full. There are lesson plans to write, papers to grade and students to teach. Working with a student with ADHD can create additional challenges, but those challenges don’t have to be a burden. Students with ADHD are smart and creative kids who often need a teacher who is willing to adapt to their unique way of seeing the world. By making small changes to the classroom — like adding visual aids, incorporating stretch breaks and developing more hands-on learning opportunities — teachers can encourage students with ADHD to reach their full potential.

At Enabling Devices, we offer a range of products to help teachers and students make the most of their time in the classroom. For more than 40 years, our company has been creating and manufacturing products that improve the quality of life and learning for children and adults with a wide range of disabilities.

Browse our sensory products to find ADHD classroom tools that can enhance your instruction, or contact Enabling Devices for help finding the right products for your classroom.

The Challenges of Special Education During School Closures

Speech therapist working with a child

It’s not unusual for parents and teachers to have concerns about “summer slide” — the academic regression that occurs for some students during the months when they are out of school. This year, since schools closed months early due to COVID-19, their concerns are magnified. Though most school systems provided online learning, statistics show that teachers and parents don’t feel especially satisfied with the way this went.

According to a May 26 USA Today survey, “Sixty percent of parents and 86 percent of teachers were concerned about children and 46 percent of parents and 76 percent of teachers say distance learning is causing the children to fall behind. Seventy-three percent of parents and 64 percent of teachers say the children will eventually be able to make up any lost ground.”

And concerns are greater for students with disabilities. “For students with special needs—roughly 7 million in the U.S. ages 3 to 21—the coronavirus pandemic, and its attendant school closures, can be especially scary,” writes Faith Hill for The Atlantic.

“At school, they get individualized attention from professionals who are trained in, and deeply familiar with, their unique ways of thinking, perceiving, and processing. But no amount of love and care at home can turn the average parent into a special-education teacher overnight. Nor can it enable them to practice occupational, speech, or physical therapy—services that are provided in many schools, but aren’t always covered by insurance and can therefore be otherwise out of reach.”

In late May, ParentsTogether, a nonprofit organization that provides news and information to parents, released the results of  a survey of 1,500 members across the United States. The survey revealed that families with children in special education are “facing major challenges.”

  • Just 20% of parents whose children have an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) or are entitled to other special education services say that they are receiving those services.
  • 39% are not receiving any support at all.
  • Children who qualify for individual learning plans are also:
    • Twice as likely as their peers to be doing little or no remote learning (35% vs. 17%).
    • Twice as likely to say that distance learning is going poorly (40% vs. 19% for those without IEPs).
    • Almost twice as concerned about their kids’ mental health (40% vs. 23% for those without IEPs).

So, what can be done to help these 7 million or so students? There’s no easy answer. Though some parents and teachers want to see children back in school ASAP, others say health concerns eclipse everything else. Returning to school before the virus is fully contained, and/or a vaccine or cure is discovered, is especially worrisome for parents of children who are medically fragile.

Yet, in a piece for the Global Partnership for Education, Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo, Global Disability Advisor of the World Bank Group writes that the pandemic may provide us with an opportunity to rethink the way special education services are delivered and to make global education “truly disability inclusive.”

McClain-Nhlapo recommends the following measures:

  • Providing support to education systems to ensure that distance learning is accessible, teachers are trained and supported to remotely teach children with disabilities and ensuring that caregivers are supported as well.
  • Providing the right mechanisms for inclusive wash, nutrition, mental health, and psychosocial support for children with disabilities and their families.
  • Reallocating and targeting resources towards more inclusive health, social and educational services.
  • Supporting the collection of disaggregate data by disability for emergency response and/or monitoring to help with tailored interventions, leading to improved support for children with disabilities in their learning environment.

New Year’s Resolutions for Special Educators

Group of Students as a table with their teacher

The beginning of a brand new year is the perfect time to set resolutions for the year ahead. Are you hoping to develop more patience, take a professional development course, try a new teaching technique, or focus on personal growth? These are all worthwhile goals. Yet, setting resolutions doesn’t guarantee you will keep them. One goal setting method that many find helpful is the SMART method. SMART is an acronym that stands for the words: Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Relevant; and Timely. According to Chris Joseph, writing for Chron, “setting S.M.A.R.T. goals can help keep you motivated and provide a way to measure your progress during your journey.” Here are some examples of New Year’s resolutions for special educators:

Keep good records
Beginning Jan. 1, I will spend 30 minutes per day writing three sentence long progress notes on five students. By the end of each week, I will have completed progress notes on 25 students. Keeping regular notes on each student will make life so much easier when it’s time for parent conferences and report cards.

Take your lunch break
This semester I will take a 40-minute-long lunch hour at least three days a week.

As helping professionals, neglecting our own needs can be an occupational hazard. Yet, finding time to eat a nutritious and relaxed midday meal isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. Your students will benefit from your improved mood and higher energy.

Get out of the classroom
This semester, I will take a 20-minute walk to clear my head and get some exercise. Just as it’s important to eat well, it’s equally important to get fresh air and exercise. A brisk walk around the campus or the neighborhood surrounding your school can work wonders for your physical and mental health.

Be organized
On the last Friday of every month, I will spend one hour sorting through the paper on my desk and in my drawers to keep myself organized. We all know how overwhelming it can be when we can’t find the documents and supplies we need to do our jobs. Organizing our work spaces can spell the difference between feeling stressed and discombobulated and feeling empowered.

Keep learning
By Feb. 15, I will sign up for one continuing education class in a subject that will help me to grow professionally. It’s natural to be apprehensive about returning to the classroom as a student, but there’s nothing like professional development to give us renewed energy and inspiration for our careers.

Invest in personal growth
By March 1, I will register for a class or activity that will enrich my personal life. All work and no play makes Jack or Jill a dull (and unhappy) boy or girl. Make sure to get out there and do something special for yourself. Self-care will make you a much better educator.

Eight Tips To Ease the Transition Back to School

Back to School boy and teacher

It’s that time of year again. Time to think about heading back to school. While some children greet the beginning of a new school year with excitement, others, especially those who face academic, behavioral and social challenges, are typically more anxious about returning to school. While you can’t promise your child or yourself that everything will go perfectly this year, there are strategies you can use to make the transition go more smoothly. We’ve compiled a list of tips to get the new school year off to a positive start.

1. Create a social story

Help your child be better prepared for school and the situations that are likely to arise there by creating a social story.  According to the Head Start Center for Inclusion, “Social Stories are short stories, often with pictures, describing a situation from the child’s point of view… Social Stories are designed to help children to gain a better understanding and have consistent reminders of the expectations in challenging social situations.”

Typically, social stories focus on an activity such as walking down the hall in school, having appropriate manners while eating lunch with peers, sharing or being a good sport. For more information, visit Carol Gray Social Stories. You can find sample social stories on Autism Parenting Magazine’s website..

2. Take your child for a school visit

If at all possible, arrange to visit your child’s school and teacher at least once before the beginning of the school year. Having a chance to talk with his teacher, see his classroom, and walk the halls will go a long way toward making him feel less anxious about the first day. This is particularly true if your child will be attending a new school in the fall.

3. Talk with the teacher about your child

Make an effort to talk with your child’s teacher before the school year begins.

Carly Anderson, a teacher and blogger for the Friendship Circle, has found that when parents provide information about their children in advance, the students’ transitions are usually smoother.

Anderson recommends parents share information about their child’s interests and motivations, any changes that may have occurred over the summer, what the child’s summer routine was like, their priorities for their child’s school year and whether they have time to be involved in their child’s classroom.

4. Back to school shopping

Do your best to accommodate your child’s wishes when it comes to back-to-school clothes and supplies. Having special needs can make it more difficult for your child to fit in with peers, and her social life may be less treacherous if she adheres to the latest fashion trends. If your child isn’t aware of the trends, pay attention on her behalf. Kids can be cruel, and there’s no point in making her an easy target for teasing.

5. Organizational tools

Nowadays, there are many tools you can use to help your child with his executive functioning difficulties. Having the right school supplies is a good start. Writing for Understood, Amanda Morin, a mother and teacher suggests buying a backpack with enough, but not too many compartments and zipper pockets. Then says Morin, “Help your child sort school supplies into clearly defined categories. For instance, put pens, pencils and highlighters together. Match up notebooks with folders and textbooks.” Try color-coding notebooks and folders to help your child keep supplies in order. Make use of the many apps that help students keep track of assignments, manage their time and stay focused.

6. Communication tools

If your child has communication challenges that interfere with her ability to talk with her peers and teachers, electronic communication devices can make a tremendous difference in the way she learns and the quality of her school experience.  Enabling Devices has many AAC device options. Shop Communicators  here.

7. iPad Products

iPads have revolutionized education for all students but perhaps even more so for children with disabilities. Regardless of mobility challenges, your child will be able to find a switch that enables him to access any app that has been programmed for switch access. See our list of switch-enabled apps here.

8. Fidgets

Don’t forget the fidgets! These little tools can be lifesavers for children who need help with self-regulation, and staying calm and focused in the classroom. They also help to increase tactile awareness. Why not splurge and get them for the whole class?


10 Ways to Choose the Right School for Your Child

The Word School with a Magnifying Glass

Chances are, your child spends much of his or her day in a setting outside your home. Whether it be a public school, private school, daycare or therapeutic or vocational training program, knowing your child is being well-educated and well-cared for is critically important. But finding the right setting for your child with special needs can be challenging. Here are some steps you can take to ensure that your son or daughter is receiving the top-notch care and educational services he or she deserves.

1. Know your child’s rights
According to Disability World “Federal law mandates that each and every child is to receive an education that is both free and appropriate in an environment that is the least restrictive possible. … There are three federal laws that apply specifically to students with disabilities: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).”

Complicating matters, each state interprets federal law differently. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the laws in your home state.

 2. Have your child evaluated
Not sure what setting is appropriate for your child? You are entitled to a free evaluation by your home school’s study team. Typically, such evaluations include psychological, speech, physical, educational and occupational therapy assessments. Depending on the results of the evaluation, children remaining in the public school system may be given an IEP that will approve your child for whatever services are deemed necessary. This may also determine whether your child qualifies for a school especially for students with special needs.

 3. Visit multiple schools
If possible, visit more than one school or setting to determine what would be the best fit for your child. Significant variabilities exist between schools in terms of their campuses, accommodations, staffing, curricula and inclusion policies.

4. Meet individually with administrators
Though school tours are helpful, when your child has special needs, it’s essential to explore whether the school can accommodate them. Make sure to be candid about your child’s needs even if this may result in him being denied admission. It’s preferable to know that a school is not appropriate before you enroll your child. Once your child begins attending school, administrators and teachers should be readily available to provide progress reports and address concerns.

5. Get references
Don’t take the school’s word for it, ask for references from other parents who have children enrolled there. They are more likely to be forthcoming about the strengths and weaknesses of the school.

6. Be aware of the school’s staffing
Ask about class size and student: teacher ratios as well as whether the school has onsite clinical staff. Find out how many minutes per week of therapy your child will receive. In private school settings, is therapy part of the tuition or is it extra? Is 1:1 therapy provided or will your child receive therapy in a group?

7. How are behavioral issues handled?
You will want to know this whether your child has behavioral issues or not. If he does have behavioral issues, you’ll want to make sure the school manages them in a way that’s in keeping with your belief system. If your child doesn’t have behavioral issues, make sure that being around other students who are frequently disruptive won’t interfere with her learning, emotional or physical well-being.

8. What is the school’s policy on bullying?
Be sure you’re knowledgeable about the school’s bullying policy. As children with disabilities are more likely to experience bullying, you’ll want to know that school administrators and teachers take it seriously and will intervene immediately.

9. Does the school offer courses or activities that your child can access?
Confirm that the school is fully accessible for students with physical and learning differences. Ideally, your child should be able to participate in all learning and recreational opportunities provided at her school.

10. Take children’s feedback seriously
Most kids complain about school on occasion. But if your child seems frightened, regularly complains about feeling sick or is habitually resistant to attending school, pay attention. Particularly with non-verbal children, it can be tough to get to the bottom of what’s going on at school. Make sure to check in with teachers and administrators to determine what may be fueling your child’s reluctance. Ideally, sit in on classes, or visit at recess or lunchtime, to make sure your child is safe, comfortable and happy.

A Time for Giving

Speech Therapist working with a student with special needs

On #GivingTuesday we can’t think of a better time to pay tribute to some of the most generous people we know — the therapists, teachers, medical providers and caregivers — who use our products and provide us with the feedback we need to make them better. These exceptional individuals give of themselves — not just on Giving Tuesday — but on every day to help the children and adults who need them.

It should go without saying that working in what’s sometimes called “the helping professions” is not appropriate for all of us. These professions require very particular skill sets and specialized training. Depending upon their roles, many helping professionals have studied for years to obtain the level of expertise they require to teach, treat and assist their students, clients and patients. Some have master’s degrees, doctorates and other postgraduate certifications. Yet, many of the traits that make these professionals successful cannot be taught. Rather they are innate.

For example, according to Special Education, special education teachers need qualities such as “organizational skills; creativity and enthusiasm; confidence and calm; a good sense of humor and easygoing personality; dedication and optimism.”

Chron. com says occupational therapists need “good communication and listening skills; organizational and problem-solving skills.” And physical therapists must have “science skills; interpersonal skills; motor skills; and organizational skills.”

Besides the qualities referenced above, effective helping professionals require loads of patience and tons of compassion. Those who choose to put their skills and talents to work with clients who are severely impaired may require even greater amounts of patience and compassion.

The vast majority of professionals who work with people with disabilities are employed at settings such as schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centers and other nonprofit organizations. Many of these rely, at least in part, on donations from private individuals. This Giving Tuesday, why not consider making a contribution to a nonprofit institution that provides essential services for people with disabilities?  After all, ’tis the season of giving!


Buddy-Building Programs for Special Education

Boy in Wheelchair talks to friend in a school hallway

Despite being mainstreamed, many students with disabilities feel excluded from their school communities. In response, some schools have developed peer-buddy programs that aim to create more inclusive environments.

Peer-to-peer buddy programs match special education students with serious disabilities with general education students for in-school and after-school activities. In an interview with Brookes Publishing, Carolyn Hughes, co-author with Erik W. Carter of  “Peer Buddy Programs for Successful Secondary School Inclusion” said, “We think of peer-buddy programs as a win-win situation for all students involved—those with and without disabilities.” Would you like to see a peer-buddy program in your school? Here are some steps to get the ball rolling:

 Do your research
Gather information about peer-buddy programs that have data to support their success. This will help you to determine what you would like your program to look like and will also help you when you approach your school’s administrative staff with the idea. For example, on its website, The Peer Buddy Program cites 10 studies that have “documented the important contributions that peer support interventions, such as peer buddy programs, can make to improving students’ interactions and friendships with their classmates.”

 Get buy-in from administration, faculty and staff
In order to build a successful program, it’s essential that all members of your school administration, faculty and staff understand what’s being proposed and are willing to participate in whatever way necessary. Come prepared with research data and an outline of what the program might look like. Hughes and Carter’s book which provides a 7-step process for designing a peer-buddy program may help you to create a strong case for starting a program at your own school.

Design your program
Determine whether your program will provide general education students who participate with credits or other incentives; Consider creating a course within your general education program where peer buddies can receive orientation and ongoing training in how best to approach their relationships with special education peers; Decide how much time can be allotted to program activities and 1:1 meetings; Come up with a list of suggested activities and a curriculum that peer buddies should follow; Create an orientation curriculum with ice breakers and tips on building a trusting relationship between peer buddies.

 Develop a recruitment strategy
Determine who will qualify for the program: Is there a minimum grade-point average to qualify? Are their particular qualities that a peer buddy must possess? Are a personal interview and references necessary? Publicize your program in school newsletters, assemblies and class presentations.

Evaluate on a regular basis
Make sure to gather feedback from all students and faculty involved in the buddy program regularly. This can take the form of one-on-one meetings between peer-buddies and faculty leaders; questionnaires that are completed at agreed upon intervals; and peer buddy group where general education buddies can share experiences and receive support from their fellows.