Teaching Online for Students with Special Needs

Learning online can be daunting, but even more so for students with special needs who need structure, personal guidance, reassurances and clear instructions. During the global pandemic, teachers and educators have witnessed all students struggle physically, mentally, emotionally and socially. However, those who have struggled the most are students with special needs. The following areas can be used to support your students with special needs, helping them to achieve their learning goals.

Structure to the day — For a student with Autism or ADHD, a daily pattern has been established when they attend school each day. The students meet friends and peers, go to the same classrooms, eat their lunch in the same place, and recognize where to get help and support if needed. Learning online strips away that support network as face to face contact has been minimized. As a result, routine has been upset and needs to be re-established within the home environment, creating a sense of control for the student. Once the routine has been settled, online learning can begin to show it’s advantages. It is important to encourage students to do things they love, and what they are interested in, therefore not forcing the learning, so a new pattern can be fully developed, and a learning environment can be established.

Being organized — A common trait with special needs is disorganization, not only in the ways of thinking but also with physical items. It is important to ensure that students with special needs have a clear idea about what they are to learn, how long to spend on each section, learning outcomes that they need to achieve, along with the necessary equipment such as books, paper, stationary and access to essential websites to help ease access issues. Taking time to get organized will help plan future work, the ability to meet deadlines and help with time management.

Technology- The vast range of technology that is available for students with special needs is outstanding. Making sure that your students know there is support for them is something that every teacher should focus on. Services such as assistive technology like text to speech, speech to text, online dictionaries, audio captions, screen readers to decipher text-based phrases and spell check are some vital tools for students with Dyslexia. Speech to text, voice recorded notes, and typing tools are vital for students with Dysgraphia. Students with hearing issues should have access to transcriptions, closed captions for lectures, and support on video calls. Students with visual impairments can have access to Braille keyboards, text-to-speech facilities, modified teaching resources and printing access to improve their learning. With the technology available, all students with special needs must avail of the resources that are available to them.

IEPs- Each student with special needs should have an Individual Educational Plan. This paperwork focuses on the child’s needs, strategies to help them learn, what areas of weakness need address, what methods of teaching are successful and targets for future learning, alone with an evaluation for future progress. IEPs should be made available to each teacher, giving them successions for future learning. Each teacher should then adapt and differentiation teaching methods and resources in a bid to cater for all learning needs and abilities.

Flexibility — One of the major benefits with online learning is that it can be made as flexible as the student needs. If the student with special needs is struggling and can not keep up with the pace or needs to revisit a topic to allow for a deeper understanding, with online learning it is possible. Tasks can also be repeated as many times as required until knowledge and understanding is gained. Being able to stop and have a break is also a great tool to allow students to have a rest, refocus and return to their learning, avoiding burn out and lack of motivation. With the ease of restarting the lessons at a time that suits the student, they can feel positive and enjoy their time online learning. Online learning is a convenient for students with special needs, allowing them to work at their own pace, and at a time that suits them.

Online learning for students with special needs must be completed in a planned and organized way to ensure that all learners excel. The advancement of technology allows for students to be in control of their learning, avoiding any hurdles in their way, while supporting and enabling them to learn. Teachers will need to take students learning habits into consideration to ensure that all students can reach their target grades while enjoy learning online.

Dennise Heckman has been teaching & coaching since 1996. She majored in illustration at the Savannah College of Art & Design, holds a Master of Education Degree