Educating Special Needs Students

Educating special needs students can be challenging. Teaching special needs requires a lot of hard work and understanding. Teaching special needs children includes teaching students with learning disabilities, attention deficits (with or without hyperactivity), developmental delays, behavioral problems, or other distinctive disorders. One reason why educating special needs students is often so complex is because there are many different, sometimes delicate, issues involved. There are legal issues around teaching special needs as well, including federal laws such as the IDEA, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitations Act of 1973. It is important to understand these laws while educating special needs students because sometimes the laws can affect classroom management.

Experts suggest that teachers develop a "clinical eye" towards their students. There are many techniques and strategies that educators can use in order to be most effective in educating special needs students. After teachers understand the research behind learning disabilities and behavioral disorders, it is important that they study and develop the best methods to reach their students. Some experts suggest that alternative teaching methods and accommodations should be made to improve a student's weaknesses. This is important when teaching special needs because after reviewing a student's symptoms, it is up to the educator to customize an educational plan that will reach each student effectively. Sometimes modifications need to be made in order to maximize learning.

Beyond understanding the legal issues and techniques regarding educating special needs students, teachers should also know how to interpret student documents and what they indicate about a student's ability to learn. Often people put a lot of the pressure and responsibility on the educator who is teaching special needs children, but there is a lot of help that can be found in a support staff that includes resources such as speech therapists, OTs, PTs, psychologists, and social workers. Teachers who utilize this support and work with the resources collaboratively usually produce the best results. These are partnerships that should benefit everyone.

It is helpful to begin with the definition and history of special education so that teachers can learn how these disorders and disabilities occur. This includes the effects on the physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social/emotional development, and adaptive development. All of these aspects are important and play an integral role in each student's unique weakness and strength areas. When teaching special needs, teachers should be able to recognize all of the different types of learning disabilities and behavioral problems that may occur in the classroom.

Each behavioral disorder is distinct and has its own symptoms, causes, and effects. Some common behavioral disorders are identified as: Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and childhood depression. Autism and other distinctive disorders such as Tourette's syndrome are also extremely important to understand.

Although it takes a lot of research and understanding, teaching special needs children can also be very rewarding. The keys are to build partnerships with parents and the help staff members, to adopt alternative ways of teaching, and to develop effective strategies based on current research. Most importantly, you must be sensitive towards special-needs students, help to rebuild their self- esteem, and protect them. Once you become an advocate for each student and not just an educator, you can have a real impact.

Vince Welsh is CEO of Teacher Education Institute. TEI offers rigorous, graduate-level professional development courses for K-12 classroom teachers. For more about teaching special needs, educating special needs students, visit

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