Friday, September 2, 2011

Ideas for Supporting Disabled Students in School

[I wrote this last semester but forgot to post it. In my Intro to Special Education class, we were asked to generate a list of ideas that might help disabled students, especially in inclusion classrooms. Here's what I came up with. I'd like to hear your ideas!)

1) Making social education a standard part of elementary school for disabled and non-disabled kids, instead of simply packing the disabled ones off to "social skills" classes alone. Inclusive social ed could cover stuff that disabled kids tend to have trouble with, like how to tell when someone is upset and how to take turns in a conversation, as well as stuff that non-disabled kids tend to have trouble with, like how to be kind and not bully other children.

2) Lesson plans which incorporate many different kinds of learning (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, musical, artistic, verbal, etc.) would allow children with all kinds of brains to be in the same classroom together. The kids would each have time to learn in the way they were most comfortable with, and develop their strengths. But they would also work on their weaknesses, learn from each other, and develop many different areas of their brains.

3) Entirely getting rid of social conventions for proper classroom posture/behavior. Do not require students to sit up straight, stare at the teacher, or be perfectly still. Allow students to stim, sit on the floor or on top of their desks, stand up, or move around if this facilitates learning. This might require some negotiation to get the students working together and not distracting each other, but I think it would let a lot of people come into inclusion classrooms who are being kept out because their behavior, although not harmful, is considered "inappropriate". It would also contribute to raising a generation of people who don’t feel prejudice around non-standard ways of moving. I think this would reduce ableist discrimination when these children grow up.

4) Giving accomodations that have to do with time. I have the most questions about how to implement this particular idea. People with autism and other brain disabilities often have difficulty with time management, and we also often think more slowly than NTs, so we may take longer to perform a given task. This can make it difficult or impossible for us to do the same amount of work as NT peers, even if we have mastered the same amount of information. I would like to research and think some more about accomodations that allow some disabled students to turn in different volumes of work than other students, or to turn in alternative assessments in forms that are not so taxing on their brains.


  1. Excellent suggestions. I'm sending this on to a number of teachers who I think might be in a position to contribute to implementation decisions.

  2. Thanks! I'm excited to know how it's received.

  3. Sounds like a fine list of accommodations for all to me. As the mom to one who loved to stand to do everything and another that preferred laying on the floor, it was easy to see that butt-in-desk didn't fit all kids. Movement room/time is a must.

    My older son's second grade class had a mini-tramp and fidgets for all kids available when they needed them. (25 kids, self-contained TAG program) They all needed them, and as long as the noise level stayed down (my stander is averse to noise), it worked fairly well.

    I'd add this -- larger rooms with less kids. That one takes money, but it sure would help.

  4. 1) I LOVE your idea of social skills for ALL kids in school. There is so much in the way of mis-understanding and bullying that NT kids could learn which would help them in life too. By having the classes together, it might just help build a deeper understanding and greater sense of community among all students.

    2) As an instructional designer, I constantly press on the importance of incorporating multi-sensory instruction into teaching. I really don't know WHY schools don't incorporate multi-sensory activities as a regular means of teaching. It is well known to provide deeper, and better understanding, for the wide variety of learners in the classroom. This is perhaps, the most essential element of the four you've named! ;-)

    3) Getting rid of rigid sitting-at-a-desk expectations would help students in countless ways. Many students with ADHD have a kinethetic learning style--they NEED to move to learn effectively. While there are some options some schools use, like desks with swinging footrests, sitting on balancing balls, or standing while working, the options in most classrooms are few and far between. For my son, when we began homeschooling, he loved to flip and turn and somersault and move all around while doing school work. Sitting still in a desk at school had been torturous for him! Not to mention the fact that it did not help him learn.

    4) My dream is always to start a school that allows all students to work at their own pace at everything. When the student has mastered the content, he has completed the course, and pressing for completion of any class on a preconceived schedule is set aside. That is a dream, which I know is difficult to implement in some regards, but I think it is an option that is needed to allow each student to master content at his or her own pace. To me, I don't care how FAST a child can learn any given concept.. I care more that the child can learn it, comfortably, without feeling 'left behind'.

    One thing that works well for helping kids learn concepts in their own learning styles while showing mastery of content without testing is to go with project-based lessons. While initial explanations and demonstrations of concepts are given, the students are then given an assignment to come up with a creative way to teach the concept to their classmates... Whether that is through a rap song, musical recitation, a play, a diorama, a 3-D model, or any other means of conveying the info, the child "owns" his or her own learning experience by finding a way to express the concept that fits his or her own learning style. I love experiential learning and project-based learning because they are better ways to teach students with widely varied learning styles.

    Hope that helps some! I'm Really appreciating your interaction on the

    Best Wishes,

  5. Zoe, I should probably preface my comment with the acknowledgement that, after 2 years of trying public school (with 29 kids in his class, over 50 kids in a combined gym class where the gym teachers wore mics) we made the difficult but necessary decision to homeschool for most of grades 1 and 2. He is now in what could be described as an advanced program in a private school for 'different learners'. So... I'm really no expert on what works, at least not nearly so much as I'm an expert on what doesn't.

    Anyhow, on your #4 I wanted to share what has worked for my son (Aspergers, SPD, Gifted). Like many on the spectrum he shuts down when overwhelmed by a volume of 'production' that is too great. I say 'production' because I want to distinguish it from 'learning'. One of the things I have noticed many kids like my son have in common, is that they may have a 'block' initially when having to - what appears to be - contort their brain into a way that accepts the new information, but once they get past that 'block' they seem to learn things at a phenomenally rapid rate. What this means is that teachers who are usually accustomed to the typical learning pattern of introducing an idea bit by bit with stable learning at each interval, may need to radically reconsider the pattern for kids like my son. His pattern is "no no no I can't do this" as the first stage in learning, during which he needs a very patient, non-judgemental, calming teacher to guide him past his 'block', and then he tends to skip past all the 'stable learning' intervals after that and races to the finish line. He had teachers who were insisting he do all the same amounts of work the other students were doing, when they were LEARNING slower than he was. BUT, they were 'producing' FASTER. See the problem?

    What worked in the case of 'not enough production' was to get the teacher on side (didn't always work, but it really is crucial) so that once my son had demonstrated ONCE that he understood the concept, they did not force him to repeat it in a multitude of other iterations, worksheets, etc. This meant too, that if he showed he got the concept on the first half of a worksheet, he did NOT have to finish that worksheet. This REALLY helped to ensure he did not get worn down by the amount of 'production' expected of the typical student, and he could maintain his love of learning and stave off a hatred of school in general.

    Love this post. Wish I'd had it 3 years ago ;)