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 or awkward 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 56.7 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. When it comes to teaching your child about special needs, it’s important to remember these tips.

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 the 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. They are never a reason to be scared or avoid someone.

3. Teach Your Child That Everyone Is Different

Every person — with or without disabilities — is unique. Teaching your child to embrace another’s differences rather than avoid them is a valuable life skill at any age. 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. They enjoy activities and engaging with others their age. They want to be loved and accepted by their peers. They 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, often, children with special needs can 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 is non-verbal or cannot engage in physical activity does not want or need friends. This is not true! 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. Spend time doing research to become more informed. If you know any specifics about the special needs of any of your child’s classmates, you can spend some time researching those topics. 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.

How to Interact With Someone Who Has Special Needs

 

Besides helping your child to understand their classmate better, 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 — regardless of abilities and limitations — is human. They still long for acceptance, and they still long 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. Even if they are non-verbal or unable to participate in certain physical activities, they still enjoy hearing your child talk or tell a joke.

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. A hand on the back or a hug that may seem harmless to your affectionate child but may not be welcomed by a child with special needs. 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 songs that are silly. 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 the fact that they may witness their classmate having a meltdown or episode where they seem to be out of control. When these outbursts happen, children who don’t have a disability can often misunderstand them and make fun of or become scared of their special needs classmate. But the truth is that these outbursts are simply a part of their disability. It’s not your child’s job to prevent them or mitigate them when they happen. That’s what their teacher is there for. 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 they are. 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 what those needs and limitations are. Teachers should follow the same guidelines as children and parents by educating themselves on their students’ special needs, as well as their boundaries and limitations.

Once a teacher has a good handle on what their students’ needs are, then their goal should be to develop lesson plans that take those needs into account and 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 to develop inclusive lessons that will provide the needed accommodations for all students.

While a teacher may need to make certain alterations to accommodate a students’ 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 use specialized technology so that they can 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 that teacher so that you are both adequately prepared to instruct the class and meet the students’ 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 notions 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 stereotypes 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 Postive 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 is including all students in activities and striving 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 do this 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.

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.

Eight Tips To Ease the Transition Back to School

Back to School photo

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 Child-Parent-Autism-Café.com.

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.  And good news! While supplies last, many of our most popular communicators are on sale. Shop the sale 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?

 

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

establish-daily-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.

browse-products-at-enabling-devices

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.

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.

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 Degrees.com, 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.

8 Ways to Ease School Anxiety

Girl in Wheelchair in front of blackboard that says "Back to School"

Temperatures are soaring, yet the fall semester has already begun for some students in the United States. Other students will return to classes in the next few weeks. Though some youngsters look forward to the start of a new school year, for others, it triggers significant anxiety. In fact, “More than a quarter of teens report experiencing extreme stress during the school year,” according to the American School Counselor Association.

For children with special needs, anxiety can be significantly higher. For example, a 2015 study in the Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, found that “between 11 percent and 84 percent of people with autism also have an anxiety disorder.” Likewise, students with physical disabilities, who are unfortunately more likely to be bullied and stigmatized by their peers, may experience anxiety about the social pressures of school. What can parents do to relieve their anxiety? Here are some suggestions:

Check in with your child
This may seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes, in an effort to be up-beat, parents may gloss over their child’s concerns about the new school year. Before and after the school year begins, take time to explore your student’s feelings about school-related issues. If students exhibit more anxiety than seems appropriate, it’s time to work on a plan to address the anxiety.

 Be aware of signs of anxiety
Not all youngsters are comfortable discussing their anxiety and some may not even recognize feelings of anxiety. Various behaviors and complaints may be signs that students are anxious. For example, notes the American School Counselor Association: “School nurses are often the first person in a school to recognize that a student making frequent visits to the clinic doesn’t have a physical aliment but rather anxiety.” Other signs of anxiety include “problems concentrating, missed deadlines, decline in participation, absenteeism and tardy arrivals,” says the ASCA.

 Visit the school
Many students feel anxious when they don’t know what to expect. Visiting your child’s school and classroom and teacher go a long way toward reducing anxiety.

Encourage healthy habits
Anxiety can increase when students miss sleep or meals. Help children to transition to a school-appropriate schedule of sleeping and eating in the week before school starts.

Teach self-regulation
Though not all students are capable of practicing relaxation and/or mindfulness techniques, those with the capacity to do so, can benefit greatly from positive self-talk, deep breathing exercises and even daily meditation practice. In fact, a 2016 study found that people with intellectual disabilities benefit from a structured MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) group intervention and the improvements were maintained at six-week follow-up.”

Keep teachers apprised
If your child has special needs, advocating for him and his education is probably nothing new. Make sure your child’s teachers and therapists are aware of your child’s behavioral, intellectual and physical challenges and work with them to devise a viable plan to deal with them. If possible, meet with your child’s teachers and therapists before the start of the school year, so plans are in place before he begins school.

Address your child’s class
If your child is mainstreamed, and only if she agrees to it, consider making a presentation to her classmates about her disability. If she is able, your child may want to make the presentation herself, or may join you in making it. The Pacer Center finds “one of the best ways to teach children about a disability is to talk to them at school.” In fact says Pacer, “for many families, presenting at school is an annual event.” Presentations can include discussion of why your child may look different from her classmates; the ways in which your child is similar to her classmates; and tips on how classmates can interact with your child, says Pacer. Stigma and bullying are frequently the result of ignorance and fear. Once other students understand your child’s disability, they may be more inclined to befriend her, and less inclined to bully or exclude him.

Find help
If despite your best efforts your child’s anxiety continues to be a problem, don’t hesitate to seek help. Counseling and in some cases, medication, can make all the difference when it comes to controlling your child’s anxiety and easing the transition into the new school year.

 

 

 

Special Education Classroom Necessities Part 4 – Visual Attention and Tracking

Disabled Boy Playing with Adapted Penguin Roller Coaster

Welcome to Part 4 in our series on equipping your special needs classroom. This week’s installment will focus on toys that help students with visual attention and tracking. According to YourTherapySource.com, “Visual tracking is the ability to control the eye movements using the oculomotor system (vision and eye muscles working together). There are two types of visual tracking: maintaining your focus on a moving object and switching your focus between two objects.”

These skills are needed for following both moving and stationary objects and are necessary for proficient reading, body awareness, posture and coordination. Though visual tracking is more challenging for students with visual impairments, the right toys and activities can help them to improve their visual tracking and attention. Enabling Devices offers a range of toys and educational tools designed to develop these skills. Here are some of our favorites:

Penguin Roller Coaster (#300)Children will develop their visual attention and tracking skills by watching this toy’s adorable little penguins climb to the top of their iceberg and “swoosh” down the slide to the bottom. Works with a capability switch (not included).

Remote Control Thomas the Tank Engine (#2115)Students won’t be able to take their eyes off Thomas the Tank Engine as he moves backward and forward with the flick of their capability switch. As they play, they’ll be practicing their visual attention and tracking skills.

Wheee-mote Control Car (#1439)This spunky little car beeps, spins and flashes its lights, helping children improve their visual attention and tracking skills while they watch.

Bubble Mania (#2286)Every child loves bubble play! This visually entrancing toy provides hours of enjoyment as it promotes visual attention and tracking skills as well as eye-hand coordination. Great for use in a group setting or for solitary play.

Tube Tracker (#5061)One of our newest toys, the tube tracker provides tons of fun while it encourages visual attention, visual tracking and helps develop students’ switch activation skills. Simply hold down the tube tracker’s switch and watch its brightly colored balls move upward on a cushion of air. Includes six colorful ping pong balls.

Visual Light Experience Kit (#4075)Go for the whole shebang! This huge assortment of toys includes everything you need to help students develop their visual perceptual skills including visual tracking, scanning and attention. Kit contains:
Adapted Musical Crystal Ball #1690
Magical Light Show* #1672
Fiber Flash Lamp #319
Spinning Light Show* #145
LED Genesis Egg #9224
Twinkles To Go Octo #9213
Nature’s Fire #3283
Go Anywhere Light Show #3331
3-Color Changing Balls #9222
Double Disco Ball * #1685
Laser Jet Kaleidoscope #2269
Bright Red Switch #262
Infinity Mirror #1683

*Not to be used with seizure prone individuals

Click here to find more toys for students with visual impairments.

 

Special Education Classroom Necessities Part 3 – Fine Motor Development

Little Girl Painting with Watercolor

Welcome to Part 3 of our series on equipping your special needs classroom. This week’s installment will focus on toys that improve students’ fine motor skills. Fine motor skills are small muscle movements in the fingers, thumb and hands that work in coordination with the eyes to perform important tasks such as writing, dressing, eating and toileting. According to Kid Sense, they’re “essential for performing everyday skills… as well as academic skills. Without the ability to complete these everyday tasks, a child’s self-esteem can suffer, their academic performance is compromised and their play options are very limited. They are also unable to develop appropriate independence in ‘life’ skills (such as getting dressed and feeding themselves) which in turn has social implications not only within the family but also within peer relationships.”

Many children with special needs require extra practice to develop their fine motor skills. Enabling Devices designs and adapts many toys and training products that offer fun ways to improve their fine motor skills. Here are some of our favorites:

Kits

NEW! Fine Motor Kits (#4395 and #4396) each contain nine fun and engaging products to strengthen muscles, improve dexterity and grasping, and develop eye-hand coordination. Two age appropriate kits (child and teen) are great for Occupational Therapists and Special Ed teachers to use in a school setting.

Tactile Manipulatives  (#1365) This set of nine fun and therapeutic manipulatives helps students strengthen and gain tactile awareness of their hands and fingers, improve fine motor skills while it also relieves tension and improves focus and attention.

Toys

The Pull Ball (#416) encourages children to practice reaching, grasping and pulling. Designed like a whiffle ball, the multicolored pull ball is perforated with holes that allow a child’s fingers to easily slip in, grasp and pull. Even the gentlest tug activates the toy’s music and lights. Children will be motivated to reach out, grasp and pull again and again.

Chunky Tic Tac Toe (#3602) Perfect for children who have difficulty with fine motor, dexterity or grasping, this special take on a classic game has large easy-to-hold shapes and giant knobs.

The Therapeutic Manipulator (#2304) encourages fine motor development while also teaching other important skills. This colorful and versatile activity center helps students develop finger isolation, reaching and grasping skills while it also offers tactile, visual and auditory stimulation and teaches cause and effect. Children will love pulling the manipulator’s “wiggle people” to hear their wacky sounds and rotating the blue and green worm to see a lightshow with music and vibration. Turning the manipulator’s knob and pushing its green button provides even more sensory surprises.

Drop-in-a-Bucket (#349) This uniquely designed shape-sorter has a low profile that’s ideal for players with limited reach. The toy helps children learn their shapes while they improve their fine motor skills. When players fit the right shapes into the right openings, they’re rewarded by music and lights.

Training Products

ADL Boards (#7006) give students valuable practice with the fine motor skills they will need to dress themselves – lacing, buttoning, zipping and snapping.

Finger Isolation Button (#716) The recessed button on this uniquely designed, colorful switch encourages practice of fine motor and finger isolation skills needed for mastery of computers and touch screen devices.

 Weighted Hand Writing Glove (#3974W) This versatile weighted glove provides proprioceptive input and compression that helps students perform a variety of fine motor and self-help activities. A must for any classroom.

 

For more toys and training products that improve fine motor skills, click here.