4 Special Education Classroom Must-Haves

As a special education teacher, it’s important to set up your classroom with the right equipment that caters to a wide range of your students’ needs and abilities. Special education teaching materials include tools, devices, equipment and products that enable your students to improve their sensory skills and develop essential fine motor functions like grasping, pressing buttons and using writing utensils.

Whether you’re setting up a new or existing classroom for children with functional needs (commonly referred to as special needs), the possibilities are endless! Enabling Devices offers everything you need with the highest quality, most innovative adapted toys, electronics and communication devices. Explore special education classroom must-haves that can help enable learning, play, communication and independence for students with disabilities.

1. Special Education Classroom Toys

Learning about cause and effect — the relationship between one action, behavior or event to another — is crucial for understanding how things work and navigating the world outside the classroom. Toys that teach cause and effect help children to develop intentionality and a sense of control over their environments, which in turn increases self-esteem.

Understanding cause and effect also helps children in academic pursuits such as reading, math and science. For children with sensory-motor challenges, toys controlled by capability switches are wonderful vehicles for teaching these skills. Enabling Devices has many adapted tabletop toys that can be used with or without switches.

Here are some of our favorite special education materials for teachers:

  • Learn & Dance Zoo Activity Center: This interactive toy features four colorful buttons on the base to activate animal sounds and cute animal friends that play short songs. This toy helps teach cause and effect. By maneuvering, pressing and spinning different elements, students can make the animals speak and dance for an exciting safari experience!
  • The Drumbourine: This musical toy activates by a switch, causing a striker to hit the tambourine, play a strong steady beat and produce radiant light graphics. When the student releases the switch, the music will stop, helping them learn how their actions lead to the reward of music.
  • The Twirling Bead Chain: When a user presses the bright red gumball switch, the carousel will twirl and play lively music while the lights sparkle. Release the switch and the carousel stops. This toy is great for teaching cause and effect and also encourages reaching and provides auditory and tactile experiences.
  • Our ATL Bundle: The ultimate way to outfit your special education classroom and teach students about cause and effect is with a bundle of toys with various shapes, sizes and textures for students to manipulate and interact with. Our carefully assembled classroom kit contains five of our newest and most popular adapted toys and five of our bestselling switches.
  • Old MacDonald’s Farm: Your students will adore this brightly colored musical toy that sings their favorite nursery rhyme. This teaching toy is equipped with four built-in capability switches that activate different animal sounds and the familiar tune that everyone loves.

2. Communication and Circle Time Tools

Communication and Circle Time Tools

Circle time provides students with functional needs the opportunity to bond with each other and encourage listening and communicating in various ways. Circle time also helps children develop their social skills by creating a consistent routine of daily, structured interactions that enhance their sensory-motor skills and language development.

This activity prepares children to learn respect for others’ opinions and build a sense of community and belonging. Over time, your students will strengthen their social competencies as they come together for a shared experience. Using special education materials and devices, children can more effectively and confidently communicate with you and other students regardless of their needs and abilities.

Enabling Devices develops communication devices and adapts many toys that are ideal for facilitating these skills during circle time. Explore these communication tools for special education teachers to enhance students’ experiences with circle time:

  • Big Talk Triple Play: Our sequential communicator allows a child to be the day’s leader during circle time. Multiple recordable messages enable the student to introduce the day and date, review the weather and say good morning to everyone in the circle. This communicator is great for encouraging children with speech impairment to participate in classroom activities.
  • Lighted Vibrating Mirror: Children love to take turns looking at themselves and then passing this multisensory mirror around the circle. Designed with two handles so it’s easy to grasp, the mirror offers visual and tactile stimulation while helping to encourage grasping and increase hand and finger strength.
  • Music Machine: Our Music Machine includes a variety of instruments including cluster bells, castanets, jingle bells and drum sticks. Just attach whatever instrument the class chooses, add a single switch and give each child an opportunity to make beautiful music during circle time. This toy is great for developing auditory skills and teaching cause and effect as well as music appreciation. It’s also ideal for children who cannot grasp instruments on their own for long periods of time.
  • Ring Around Bells: Let each child in the circle take a turn making this switch-activated toy’s colorful, precision-tuned bells twirl and play the musical scale while its multicolored LEDs blink. This toy encourages listening and grasping and increases eye-hand coordination, all while teaching children to appreciate music.
  • Bongo Drums: When equipped with two capability switches, our Bongo Drums can be played by two children in the circle at once. Pass it around so that every child has the chance to practice sharing, cooperation and listening skills while learning cause and effect and music appreciation.
  • Vibrating Animal: Is one child in the circle having a hard day? The Vibrating Animal can help them relax so they can attend to whatever’s being taught during circle time. Alternatively, pass the vibrating plush animal around the circle so that everyone can enjoy the tactile stimulation and calming effect of holding this soft, cuddly friend.

3. Fine Motor Development Tools for Your Classroom

Fine Motor Development Tools for Your Classroom

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. Children with functional needs may need assistance grasping crayons, pressing buttons, using scissors or picking up toys. Fine motor movement improves eye-hand coordination, contributes to physical awareness and assists in the development of communication skills, such as talking, writing, drawing or using touch or switch-enabled devices to communicate.

Helping your students build up their fine motor skills can significantly improve their independence and task performance. Improved fine motor skills can also boost a child’s confidence in their ability to complete daily functions.

Many children with functional needs require extra practice to develop fine motor skills. Fortunately, with the right special education tools and toys on hand, your students can practice and improve their fine motor skills through play and everyday interactions. In fact, the more your students get to play with toys of various shapes and textures, the more attuned their fine motor muscles become.

Enabling Devices designs and adapts many toys and training products that offer fun ways to improve fine motor skills. Here are some of our favorite tools, toys and training products for developing fine motor skills:

  • The Pull Ball: 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. The Pull Ball encourages children to practice their finger, hand and wrist movements. Even the gentlest tug activates the toy’s music and lights. Children will be motivated to reach out, grasp and pull again and again.
  • Switch-Adapted Tic Tac Toe: This special take on a classic game has LED lights and switches to encourage interaction and teach directionality. It’s ideal for children who have difficulty with fine motor, dexterity or grasping.
  • The Five Function Activity Center: Students can learn cause and effect by activating any of this toy’s five functions. Press the bright yellow plate to play its built-in AM/FM radio, the red plate to feel a vibration, the wooden roller to sound a buzzer, a pull ball to turn on the music box, and the orange one to turn on the light. This toy helps develop sensory awareness and improve eye-hand coordination.
  • ADL Boards: Activities of daily living (ADL) boards are a must-have for any special education classroom supply list. This product gives students valuable practice with fine motor skills they will need to dress themselves, including lacing, buttoning, zipping and snapping. Strengthening the muscles in their fingers, hands and wrists can also help with many other skills, like grasping and writing.
  • Finger Isolation Button: This unique and colorful switch features a recessed button that helps individuals improve their fine motor and finger isolation skills needed to use touchscreen devices and computers.
  •  Weighted Hand Writing Glove: Students can perform a variety of fine motor and self-help activities with this weighted compression glove that provides proprioceptive input to help strengthen the response in an individual’s joints and muscles.

Explore more toys and training products that improve fine motor skills.

4. Visual Attention and Tracking Toys and Educational Tools

Visual Attention and Tracking Toys and Educational Tools

Visual tracking is a child’s ability to move and control their eye movements. The two types of visual tracking are focusing on an object as it moves across the visual field, and efficiently switching focus between two objects.

In the classroom, children will often have to look up at the board for instructions and learning. However, if they struggle with controlling their eye movements, such as left to right, up and down and in a circular motion, it can be difficult for them to focus and stay visually alert. Some individuals may not be able to move their eyes without moving their heads.

These skills are needed for following both moving and stationary objects and are necessary for reading, body awareness, posture and coordination. Children rely on visual tracking to interact with their environment and know where to look. For instance, a student who has a visual impairment may find it difficult to read without skipping lines or have trouble catching a ball during playtime.

While visual tracking is more challenging for students with a visual impairment, the right toys and activities can help them 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: Children will develop their visual attention and tracking skills by watching this toy’s adorable little penguins climb to the top of the iceberg and “swoosh” down the slide to the bottom. This toy works with a capability switch, which is sold separately.
  • Fubbles Fun-Finiti Bubble Machine: Everyone loves bubble play! This visually entrancing toy offers an infinite amount of fun while teaching students about cause and effect. Students can use a capability switch to activate this toy and watch bubbles soar to the sky, improving eye-hand coordination and visual attention and tracking.
  • Tube Tracker: The Tube Tracker provides tons of fun while encouraging visual attention and visual tracking and helping develop students’ switch activation skills. Simply hold down the switch and watch the brightly colored balls move upward on a cushion of air. The Tube Tracker includes six colorful ping pong balls.
  • Visual Light Experience Kit: 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. This kit contains 13 items of various shapes and sizes, from musical toys to light-up devices that enhance a child’s visual experience. Keep in mind that this kit should not be used with individuals who are prone to seizures.

Find more toys for students with visual impairment on our site.

Get Your Classroom Must-Haves From Enabling Devices Today

As a special education teacher, you are constantly working to ensure your students’ needs are met. One of the most important things you can provide, regardless of a student’s abilities, is the possibility to enable them to do and learn more. At Enabling Devices, it’s our goal to help you make small but meaningful changes to your classroom that allow students to play, grow and learn new skills.

We design and develop tools, toys and products that provide more hands-on learning opportunities so children with disabilities can reach their full potential and feel more confident in their abilities. We offer a wide range of products to help students with functional needs maximize their time in your classroom and meet their individual goals.

Browse our products online to explore toys and devices you can use to enhance your classroom, or contact us today to see if we can create a custom product for your student.

Get Your Classroom Must-Haves From Enabling Devices Today

Back-to-School Time Again!

BTS image w/Girl 2023

Though the weather outside is frightfully hot, a visit to your local air-conditioned Walmart or Target, where you’ll find aisles of Disney princess and Super Mario-themed lunchboxes and looseleaf notebooks, will remind you that back-to-school season is here.

Back-to-school season engenders a variety of feelings in kids from joy and excitement, to fear and anxiety. For children who face learning challenges, difficulty with transitions, or poor social skills, returning to classrooms may be especially stressful. Foresight and preparation can make all the difference in starting the new school year on a positive note. So, here are some steps you can take to make school year 2023-2024 the best it can be.

1. Adapt your child’s sleep schedule
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “children ages 3-5 years [should] get 10 to 13 hours of sleep including naps, children ages 6-12 years old [should] get 9-12 hours of sleep and children 13-18 years [should] get 8-10 hours of sleep.” During summer vacations, many families are more liberal about their children’s sleep schedules. To give your child the best chance of a successful transition, gradually move his bedtime and wakeup schedules to a school-appropriate schedule. In addition, re-introduce a bedtime routine including bathing, teeth-brushing, and changing into PJs. Limit screen time before bed since lights from a computer screen, phone or TV inhibit sleep. Instead, read to your child, or encourage independent readers to wind down with a book.

2. Communicate with your child’s teacher
If possible, set up a time to meet with, email or talk with your child’s teacher before the first day of school. The teacher will likely appreciate the insight you can provide about your child’s areas of interest, strengths and weaknesses as well as any behavior tips you can share. This conversation is also a good opportunity to make sure that all arrangements and accommodations for your student’s learning needs are in place.

3. Take your child to meet the teacher
If time allows, take your child to visit her teacher prior to the first day of school. This will ease your child’s anxiety about the unknown and make her feel more comfortable about the start of the school year.

4. Tour the school building
Set up a pre-first day visit to the school to help acclimate your student to his surroundings. This is especially important if your child will be in a brand-new environment or if he benefits from repetition.

5. Encourage your child to share feelings about the upcoming school year
Don’t wait for your child to raise anxieties, fears or excitement about the upcoming transition. Instead, explore her feelings whenever the opportunity arises. One good way to start a conversation is by reading books with back-to-school themes.

6. Set up playdates prior to the first day
If you know other children who’ll be attending your child’s school, or even better, who will be among your child’s classmates, set up a playdate prior to the first day. Seeing a familiar face or two on the first day of school can make a world of difference to an anxious student.

7. Shop for back-to-school supplies with your child
Sometimes it seems easiest to purchase your child’s school supplies without her input, but enlisting her involvement is a great way to help prepare your child mentally and physically for returning to school. If your child has physical limitations or sensory needs, take care to find supplies that work for her. For example, check out Enabling Devices’ mounting devices and systems that hold adaptive switches and iPads. If your child is non-verbal, consider investing in a new communicator that aligns with his current language level. Or help your student improve her skills with adaptive tools such as our LED Light Box, ADL board, or Adapted Battery Operated Scissors.

Special Education Classroom Guide

Special Education Classroom Guide

A special education classroom should provide the support students need to successfully engage in learning activities, communicate more effectively and minimize behavioral problems.

With high-quality tools, devices, toys and electronics from Enabling Devices, you’ll have everything you need to support a wide range of functional levels. This guide provides tips for decorating your ideal special education classroom.

Special Education Classroom Setup and Decorating Ideas

The first step to setting up a special education classroom is to carefully consider each piece in the room and how it will fulfill students’ learning needs. Here are some special education classroom decorating ideas to keep in mind.

Special Education Classroom Setup and Decorating Ideas

  • Consider the age range: While many special education teachers have students of varying ages and abilities, you’ll want to find appropriate room decorations for the students in your classroom. If possible, wait until you find out the actual and developmental ages of your students before choosing materials and room dĂ©cor. Some students may benefit from certain seating arrangements or educational devices.
  • Determine the layout: Your special education classroom layout should include separate areas with specific uses, such as a play area or calming area. At the same time, be sure to leave space for children with mobility devices to navigate the room.
  • Arrange the classroom to fit your teaching methods: Every teacher has a unique teaching style. Arrange your special education classroom according to your own teaching style. For example, if you prefer for students to work collaboratively, arrange desks closer together. If you prefer them to work individually, space out the desks accordingly.
  • Create a fun, comfortable and calming environment: It is critical that your special education classroom is comfortable, accessible and pleasant for students. Consider decorating with bright, fun colors or delineate sections by choosing different color combinations for each section.
  • Feel free to brainstorm: Get creative with the themes available. For instance, a camping theme might incorporate different elements of nature, whereas a city theme might include areas that resemble a public park or town hall. Check out our blog post on back-to-school theme ideas for special education teachers to get inspired.

Rules for a Special Education Classroom

Meaningful routines and structure offer consistency and predictability for all children. Knowing what to expect as they enter your classroom will help students to feel relaxed and create an environment that is well-suited for healthy interactions, improved social skills and behavior management.

When creating rules for your classroom, consider the ages, needs and abilities of all students. For example, don’t expect students with certain mobility challenges to raise their hands before speaking. Likewise, being asked to listen when others are speaking will not accommodate a student with a hearing impairment.

Here are examples of special education classroom rules to use as a starting place. When you arrive at a list of rules that appropriately accommodate all students, post them on the board to remind students to follow them.

  • Raise your hand or signal the teacher when you have a question.
  • Look and listen during instruction.
  • Use kind and positive language.
  • Stay seated during activities.
  • Keep your hands and feet to yourself.
  • Bring your homework to school.
  • Always try your best.
  • Follow directions.
  • Use your quiet voice.
  • Be respectful to others.

Special Education Tools, Equipment and Materials

Specially made tools, toys and materials can enhance students’ experiences and make it easier for them to focus and absorb new information. Certain equipment can also help them improve their daily living skills, both at home and at school.

Special Education Tools, Equipment and Materials

The following are special education classroom items you may want to consider:

  • Tactile Manipulatives: Squishy, textured toys help students feel more focused and less stressed while strengthening their hands and fingers and enhancing tactile processing.
  • ADL Boards: Activities of Daily Living (ADL) boards are beneficial for students of all ages with functional needs, also referred to as special  needs. These tools allow students to enhance fine motor skills that they need to dress, such as zipping, snapping and lacing, which can also help them learn to grasp writing tools or press buttons on communication devices.
  • ATL Bundles: These adapted toys with switches can increase students’ visual and auditory attention and teach them about cause and effect.
  • Finger Isolation Button: This device is designed with a recessed button to help students learn how to master finger isolation and other fine motor skills needed for using touchscreen devices and computers.
  • Weighted Hand Writing Glove: A weighted glove is a must-have for any special education classroom because it offers proprioceptive input and compression that some students may need to perform various activities, like writing and drawing. This glove enhances maximum finger flexibility and wrist mobility and elevates strengthening exercises.

Elementary School Special Education Classroom Tips

Children in elementary school will generally be five to 10 years old. With that in mind, here are some elementary special education classroom tips to try:

  • Use alternative aids: For students with visual or hearing impairment, consider using visual or auditory aids that allow them to engage and respond in lessons and activities. Devices for these impairments allow elementary school students to be more interactive when learning.
  • Create a predictable schedule: Children with varying needs and abilities can benefit from a predictable routine in the classroom. When you anticipate a change in their routine, such as a field trip, special guest or substitute teacher, it’s best to let your students know in advance so they feel comfortable and prepared when the day comes.
  • Provide plenty of opportunities for breaks: Children with special needs develop their skills on different timelines, so it’s important to offer a safe calming area for them in the classroom, such as a sensory space. A sensory space allows them to engage with tools and toys that provide a relaxation break before returning to learning.
  • Consider environmental triggers: Look around your classroom and determine if there are any bright lights, extreme temperatures or loud noises. These factors can disrupt a child’s thought process and behavior, potentially leading to an outburst. Decorate your classroom with warm lighting and use soothing music to help keep everyone calm.
  • Use discipline gently but effectively: Elementary-age children of all needs and abilities may struggle to stick to certain rules and behaviors. Determine an effective strategy for promoting and supporting good behavior with simple and straightforward language. Be sure to help your students learn what is expected of them and build trust and respect, but be gentle with your tone, volume and body language.
  • Make learning easier with tools, toys and devices: You can entice younger children to learn and communicate more effectively with devices that assist them in their daily activities. For example, toys that calm anxiety can help with focus, and communicators make it easier for students to express their needs. These sensory and functional products are great additions for engaging the five senses and promoting relaxation.

Middle and High School Special Education Classroom Tips

Middle and high school special education students may be aware of their different needs and abilities when around their peers, so it’s critical to ensure your classroom is a place for them to feel supported, empowered and engaged in learning. Here are some ways to make older students feel at ease:

  • Use a mix of learning materials and tools: Your students will have a variety of proficiency levels and abilities in the classroom, so having a mix of books and resources can provide students with manageable assignments and activities. You can also modify or adjust assignments to minimize frustration and maximize confidence.
  • Discuss disabilities openly and reduce stigma: Some middle and high school students with special needs may feel ashamed of their symptoms and functional differences. As a special education teacher, it’s important to help students understand disability. Talking openly about students’ needs and abilities can help them capitalize on their strengths and feel motivated to learn more about themselves.
  • Use assistive tools and technologies: There are plenty of assistive technologies and products to aid students in learning, such as special education classroom kits for students who have sensory processing disorder, speech or visual impairment, autism or cerebral palsy.
  • Create a responsive classroom environment: Learn how each of your students can and prefers to communicate. Whether a student is verbal or uses augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, speaking their language can help them build trust with you and feel more confident in participating.

How to Create an Inclusive Special Education Classroom

How to Create an Inclusive Special Education Classroom

Teachers and educators play a valuable role in promoting inclusivity in special education classrooms and throughout the entire school. Here are some ways you can support inclusivity among students:

  • Develop lessons to accommodate everyone’s needs: It’s important for teachers to educate themselves on each student’s needs, limitations and boundaries to better understand how to build inclusive lessons and make alterations to assignments. You may also modify seating arrangements or develop creative ways to meet your students where they are.
  • Keep a positive perspective: Modeling a positive attitude while teaching special education in the classroom is an effective way to help your students feel more confident in themselves and their ability to succeed in school. Keep in mind that some students may not always meet learning outcomes as expected. Focus on the big picture, such as the fact that they are engaging in your classroom and learning something new.
  • Avoid showing a preference or comparing students: In any educational setting, showing preference or favoritism toward certain students can make others feel that they are not doing enough, which can create a divisive classroom. A special education inclusive classroom starts with eliminating exclusion, comparison and stereotypes, which allows children to grow and learn regardless of their abilities.
  • Have adaptive equipment and assistive technology available: Your students may have varying needs and abilities when it comes to speech, vision, hearing or mobility. Providing appropriate adaptive and assistive devices helps promote inclusion and allows all students to engage in activities. Some of these devices might include adaptive switches, capability switches, communicators and boards.
  • Emphasize respect in all interactions: Part of maintaining an inclusive and positive environment is reminding students to humanize their peers who might have different abilities from them. Encourage students to introduce themselves and remind children to be respectful of others’ feelings, even if they don’t know at first how to speak to or include an individual with disabilities.

Teaching children how to include peers with disabilities can be challenging for some parents and teachers. Find out more about how to help kids learn to include and understand classmates with different needs.

Teaching Strategies for a Special Education Classroom

Your teaching methods may vary depending on the age group and special needs of your students. Explore these general teaching strategies you can practice in your special education classroom:

  • Group students according to their abilities: Form small groups of students according to their needs, abilities and skill levels. This structure can help your students avoid comparing themselves to others and instead focus on their group and their assigned activity.
  • Create specialized areas around the classroom: Designate certain areas of the classroom for specific activities and instruction. Ensure that each space specializes in one level or subject for your students to focus on at a time and include various learning materials for them to engage with.
  • Review the previous lesson: Once you’ve covered a new subject or lesson in class, review it before jumping into the next one to determine if every student is ready to move on. Emphasize key points of the lesson and check in with your students to ensure they understand.
  • Provide follow-up directions: After instruction, it’s always best to repeat yourself or provide additional directions so your students are confident in what they need to do. Remind students to ask for help if they do not understand your directions.

Teaching Strategies for Students With ADHD

Students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may present an impaired ability to listen, focus or finish a task. This disorder may sometimes cause students to fidget or display disruptive behaviors in class. Here are some special education classroom ideas for teaching students with ADHD:

  • Personalize their learning: Students do not learn in the same way. Some may show strengths in different areas than others, such as the ability to sit still or stay organized. Consider hands-on, interactive activities with manipulatives to help keep students with ADHD focused and engaged.
  • Offer choices: Some assignments with many steps can be overwhelming for students with ADHD, so try offering several ways for them to finish an assignment. When learning math, for example, allow them the choice of using a calculator, writing problems on the board or working quietly on a worksheet to complete their assignment.
  • Accommodate their attention span: Students with ADHD will perform tasks more effectively without distractions. Give them a quiet area to work, allow them extra time to finish or split up the assignment in separate stages rather than all at once.
  • Reward students for good behavior: Many children with ADHD may become accustomed to constant correction or scolding for their behavior. You can make a huge difference in their learning by focusing on their positive behaviors. Offering praise for even minor accomplishments can motivate them to continue these behaviors.

Prepare Your Special Education Classroom With Help From Enabling Devices

Prepare Your Special Education Classroom With Help From Enabling Devices

As a special education teacher, you know how important it is to ensure every child has access to learning regardless of their needs and abilities. To create an inclusive and accessible classroom, start by introducing adaptive devices and assistive technology from Enabling Devices. We’re proud to create exceptional products to help individuals with disabilities achieve their goals, from communication to learning to play.

We understand that each student is unique, and it’s our goal to create products that align with those needs. We’re passionate about enabling possibility and unlocking potential in all students. Contact us today to learn more about how our devices can help enhance learning for your students.

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.

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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.

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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 and 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. Special education teachers often have different considerations when getting ready for the school year than general education teachers. Each student in a special education classroom has unique needs to think about when planning your classroom design, layout and theme. In addition to the physical room, you also want to consider the classroom environment and how you can make your students feel comfortable and ready to learn.

Whether this year is your first teaching special education or you’ve been in the field for years, you can still 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 students with functional needs, commonly referred to as special needs. 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 and Keep People Informed

Communication is critical in any teaching position, but it becomes especially important for special education teachers. 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).

Communicate and Keep People Informed

2. Review and 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 students with special needs.

If possible, generate one-page summaries of each IEP. These summaries will help you learn about each student’s 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 planning 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, such as:

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 minimize behavioral problems. 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 stress 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, you can:

  • Keep a positive outlook.
  • Separate yourself from your stresses at the end of the day by finding something rewarding to engage in.
  • Find some means of building yourself up and resetting your stress levels at the end of the day or during the weekends, such as exercising, visiting friends or practicing a hobby or skill.

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 classroom 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 actual and development ages, 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 dĂ©cor 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 students with special needs 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 students with special needs, 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 different needs, such as:

In addition to having a place for students to explore sights, sounds and sensations, a sensory space also allows 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 with 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.

Designing a Special Education Classroom for Elementary School Students

Designing a Special Education Classroom for Elementary School Students

Special education classrooms for elementary students should support learning and adapt to students’ unique needs and abilities.

Use a center or hub system to move students around the classroom and engage them in different lessons. Set up a special activity for each area, such as independent work, art, science and math. Rotate students through the small group areas throughout the day, so they can learn all the concepts.

Help students keep their assignments and materials organized with labeled bins. Homework, worksheets and school supplies will have their own place. Classroom-wide schedules can be color-coded by student, so each student can keep track of their activities.

Students who need an outlet for fidgeting should also have a sensory toy at their desk to play with. The Gel Lap Pad weighs 5 pounds for self-soothing and has squishable, sparkling gel that students can play with to improve focus.

Your classroom can also have a sensory space with calming or energizing toys for all students to play with. The Sensory Exploration Tent is a fun way for students to increase their sensory awareness by playing with a wood fidget puzzle, Tranquil Turtle and other toys.

Designing a Special Education Classroom for Middle and High School Students

Middle and high school students in a special education classroom — similar to those in an elementary school — need the right support to learn and be independent. Special education classrooms for high school and middle school students should be responsive, as every student has unique needs.

In many special education classrooms, group work for the entire class period can be challenging. Create a center or station setup where students can focus on a different activity in each area. Station ideas include individual IEP and curriculum work, group activities and life skill tasks. You can also set up a waiting area if one student needs to wait on another student to move on to the next station.

Keep learning materials organized in color-coded and labeled bins. This organization helps students find their own materials, which is important for building independence and assessing their ability to understand and follow directions.

Encourage group work and social skill development by clustering student desks together. Each desk cluster can have a unique activity, like working on a lesson or playing a tabletop game like Bingo and Hi Ho Cherry-O to help students recognize numbers and interact with each other.

Special Education DĂ©cor Ideas

Special Education DĂ©cor Ideas

Classroom décor can be functional to reinforce your lessons and make the space a fun place to learn. For décor in special education classrooms, less is often more, as too many decorations may overstimulate some students.

For small group workspaces, use a Fluorescent Black Light Carpet that displays neon colors to help calm students. You can also turn the visuals and work materials from lessons into your classroom décor. Print images or concepts on colored paper and attach them to your board. Set up a Go! Board in a central location to keep students on task.

Special education teachers can create themed bulletin boards that add value to the classroom. Themed boards organize learning materials and reinforce concepts. For example, you can have a schedule board with the day’s activities, a word wall with new vocabulary terms, or a goal board with your class’s goals for the day, week or year.

For your printed paper décor, laminate the paper and adhere it with magnets or mounting putty. The lamination preserves the paper to prevent fading and tearing. You can use these visuals every year, saving time and money with your special education classroom decoration.

Special Education Classroom 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 theme 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. Adding plants through classroom design may improve student performance.

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 dĂ©cor 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

Start the year by equipping your classroom with the products your students need for an accessible learning experience. You’ll find everything you need at Enabling Devices. We offer classroom decorations, toys, educational objects and much more to help you give your students the best education possible.

If you need more ideas for your room themes, browse through our products at Enabling Devices. We have a wide range of products, toys, electronics and accessories to accommodate students of all abilities, including:

You’ll even find special education classroom resources and ideas and informative special education blog posts on our website.

Browse our products and resources for special education teachers to prepare for back to school. Contact Enabling Devices for more information or assistance finding the right products for your special education classroom.


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 Today.com, “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

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (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 their students.

The good news is that even with those challenges, it is possible for students with ADHD — and their teachers — to thrive every day. Teachers play a big role in a child’s educational success, especially for students with ADHD. Teachers can make small, impactful changes to classroom activities and overall attitudes and integrate teaching strategies to support all students.

A teacher has the opportunity to positively impact their students with ADHD for many years to come by providing them with a structured classroom setup that encourages learning, enforces discipline and improves their self-esteem. Students with ADHD can learn they are capable and gain confidence in their schoolwork.

The Challenges of Teaching Students With ADHD

ADHD can magnify the typical challenges students face in a general education classroom, especially in school districts lacking funding or 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 in the classroom:

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 paperwork 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 daily, the paperwork 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 lack 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. Many schools are tight on money, and administrators are pressured to achieve more results with less funding. In some districts, special education programs may not have the funding to hire an adequate number of teachers or purchase the equipment they need. 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. For example, 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 how 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, sending emails or making phone calls to update them on their child’s behavior and progress.

16 Teaching Strategies for Students With ADHD

Here are several tips to help your students with ADHD succeed.

1. Establish Rules

Every good classroom has a short, simple list of rules to follow. These rules should be clearly laid out and posted from the beginning of the school year. Rules can be more effective for students with ADHD when incorporated alongside strategies for ADHD classroom management into their daily routine.

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 these 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 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 learn in different ways. 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 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. Inquiring about their interests and answering their questions goes a long way toward their academic success, especially for students with ADHD. Take the time to greet each student by name, and use their name when calling on them in class. Create a classroom bulletin board to display your students’ artwork, photos, accomplishments and interests.

If students with ADHD exhibit negative behavior in the classroom or struggle to keep up with schoolwork, ask questions instead of reprimanding them. If they misbehave, you can ask them, “Is this a good choice or a bad choice?” to help the student understand their behavior was inappropriate.

6. Provide Visual Reminders

Provide Visual Reminders

Students with ADHD respond to visual reminders, cues and examples, so incorporate a visual component into your lessons and homework assignments. For example, you can demonstrate a skill like writing on the board so the student can follow along. During independent work, write out the key points on the board so students can reference as they work. Post important concepts on bright-colored poster board around your classroom.

Visual reminders also help students stay on schedule. The Go! Board System supports scheduling techniques with eight picture symbols that the student can remove when they complete the task.

7. Provide Hands-On Learning Opportunities

Encourage your students with ADHD to experience things first-hand to engage them in learning. Create learning opportunities that allow your students to participate. For example, you can have students build and take apart a model to understand how it works. Have students write and act in a play to express their creativity, or create an assignment in which the student records on video.

For music-themed lessons, you can integrate toys that teach music appreciation and allow students to play music. With an Adapted Musical Cymbal, students can use a capability switch to make a percussive sound. The Ring Around Bells has twirling, ringing bells that also increase auditory development and teach cause and effect.

8. Reduce Distractions

Help your students focus on the lesson or assignment by reducing potentially distracting barriers. Place their desk near the source of instruction in a low-distraction area of the classroom. Often, these areas are closest to your desk and furthest from windows and doors. When giving the class instructions for homework, stand near them to help them focus.

A Classroom Fidget Kit has fidget toys to help students stay focused and regulated to facilitate learning. They can play with a variety of toys to meet their sensory needs, such as a gel bead ball, rainbow pom ball, squish disk, water snake and more.

9. Use Positive Role Models

Peer role models can give students with ADHD a positive example of good classroom behavior. Create a seating chart where the student sits near the “role model” students. Positive peer models also help students ease the potential distractions from other students with diverting behaviors.

10. Provide Positive Feedback

Many students with ADHD respond best when they are offered positive, immediate and frequent feedback. For example, when a student with ADHD completes an assignment, use positive praise, such as “You’re doing a great job!” If their answer is incorrect, get a positive conversation going by saying, “Let’s talk this through” or “Does that sound right to you?”

11. 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 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 planning can also help avoid emotional meltdowns that might otherwise take away from instructional time.

12. 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 it’s 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.

13. 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 can pay attention to their emotional state, they can better control themselves and prevent meltdowns or emotional outbursts later in the day.

14. 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 goal is true for all teacher-student relationships, but it’s essential when teaching students with ADHD. These actions 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.

15. Reward Good Behavior

Some children with ADHD spend a lot of time being corrected or reprimanded for their 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 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.

16. Partner With Parents

Communicate regularly with the parents of your students with ADHD to ensure they have the best learning experience possible, whether at home or in class. Some ways teachers and parents can work together to support students with ADHD include:

  • Keep in touch on a weekly basis or as needed.
  • Discuss any problems the student is having with schoolwork while at home.
  • Check if the student has completed their assignments, especially for any classes they are struggling with.
  • Help the student prepare for the next school day by helping them with homework and organizing school papers.

Support ADHD Classroom Management With Products From Enabling Devices

As a teacher, your days are full, with 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 need a teacher who is willing to adapt to their unique way of seeing the world. By making small changes to the classroom, 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 created and manufactured products that improve the quality of life and learning for children and adults with a wide range of disabilities. We have a wide selection of products to integrate into the classroom environment, including:

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.

Support ADHD Classroom Management With Products From Enabling Devices

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?