Embracing Messy Learning: Understanding How to Work with Children with Special Need


Sometimes, working with children with special needs can pose quite the challenge.  Having a classroom filled with children with such varied needs and disabilities can be almost overwhelming for a teacher — where do you put your focus when so many people need your help?  Read on for tips and pointers for teaching children with disabilities.

As you begin to set up your class and curriculum, make sure to take your classroom environment into account — all children, and especially children with disabilities are very sensitive to their surroundings. Creating a safe space for your students to work will greatly help you to have a successful classroom.

One thing you have to look out for when working with children with special needs are triggers (which, as you’ll find, can be a huge part of your classroom environment).  Paying close attention to triggers — or events or circumstances that upset or scare the child in question can be a very important element of dealing with children with disabilities. Triggers tend to vary from individual to individual; for example, one autistic child might be triggered by loud noises, while another is triggered by a feeling of crowding — or, a child struggling with ADHD may get triggered from using the computer (technology is a trigger for many people with ADHD) — it all depends on the child and their background.

When it comes to triggers, teachers and parents need to work together: parents should inform teachers of any known triggers, and vice versa — that way, both can work together to create a learning environment where the children feel safe and supported.

Especially when it comes to your students and their various triggers, you must develop the ability to anticipate your children’s needs — staying one step in front of the curve will be very helpful when it comes to running a tight ship.  Knowing your students’ triggers is a big part of that — as is a good old fashioned dash of common sense and good perception!  Good anticipation can help to stop meltdowns and tantrums in their tracks.


It is also important that students receive deficit-training — no matter what their disability may be. Deficit training is just what it sounds like: the children get coaching on areas where they are less comfortable — for example, some children may need help learning how to behave in social situations. If they receive proper training, it will help them to better be able to interact as a group.

You’ll also want to make sure you have a whole arsenal of techniques to help you explain concepts and directions. Visual aids (such as models, hands-on demonstrations, and illustrations) are always helpful — they speak to a wide range of people; plus they’re always engaging. And when you explain things, you should make doubly sure that you have your class’ attention (especially if some of your students have ADD or ADHD).

While working with children with special needs certainly brings unique challenges, it’s also hugely rewarding — and you know that the work you do will never be boring!

Students vs. Schools – How Children are Being Denied the Services They Need

It’s a sad state of affairs indeed when a dispute arises between students vs. schools, but that’s where we find ourselves. Although special needs children make up about 10% of our population of students, special education is much harder to come by than one would think. Rarely do students in need of special education actually get it — and if they do, it’s usually because their parents fought tooth and nail (make that tooth, nail, and lawsuit) for them to get it — it’s a broken system.

According to a report from California Legislative Analyst’s office, approximately, 1 in 10 students  (which adds up to just under 700,000 in the state of California alone) needs special education — which would be fine if the laws did what they were supposed to do: federal law states that children with special needs must be provided a free and appropriate public education — ever since the Individuals with Disabilities Act (or IDEA) was passed. But is that what we see happening in real life? No — since 2010, a staggering 10,000 families have gone to court to fight for their child’s right to education.

There aren’t enough resources allocated towards education in order for each child to get the attention they need and deserve. Federal funding is supposed to cover 40% of special education costs, but in reality only covers a measly 17% — a pittance that doesn’t leave for much wiggle room. Unfortunately, it’s the kids (and their parents) that suffer the costs of this dearth of funding.


While special education students have a wide variety of needs, they tend to get lumped together — autistic children are often placed in classes for emotionally disturbed kids, two groups in need of different kinds of attention and support . It has come to the point where getting ignored is the accepted protocol — parents try again and again to get their child the attention they need, and are refused again and again, until finally the school relents — this little dance even has its own name: “Delay and Deny.” What a phrase to associate with education! The process of Delay-Deny is so widespread that the federal Department of Special Education even issued a memo forbidding it — even so, it’s easier said than done, and parents are still forced to go head-to-head with their schools and school districts.  And how long do these battles last?  Not weeks (and certainly not days), not months, but years.  Valuable years that the child in question will never get back.

And time isn’t the only issue: in Bay Area districts alone, hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent on lawsuits. A complete waste of money, especially when you factor in the fact that special education costs a mere fraction of that.

While special education has become much more of an issue than would be optimal (especially since the passing of IDEA), there’s hope: the Concerned Parents Association is filing a lawsuit against the California Department of Education, in the hopes of effecting some permanent change within our education system. Here’s to hoping this will make a difference.

Schools Fail to Uphold Zero Tolerance Policies

“Schools Fail to Uphold Zero Tolerance Policies” — it sounds like a bad thing, but we promise, it isn’t. While they may sound like a good idea, zero tolerance policies have actually shown to be more than a little destructive. Luckily, America’s school system is finding solutions, and statistics are back on the rise.

So why is America relaxing on zero tolerance policies?

Although zero tolerance policies were first used in schools in the hopes of curbing crime (for example, underage consumption of alcohol, drugs, and vandalism), it quickly became clear that they do more to hurt than to help. Schools that enforce zero tolerance policies had statistically higher dropout rates, coupled with increased arrest records and decreased academic achievement — which is, quite understandably, considerably less than ideal for our schools.

Even individuals who once supported zero tolerance policies are beginning to change their tune. After finding that zero tolerance policies were counterproductive, many of America’s schools began initiatives to keep lawbreaking students in school, and more importantly, off the streets.

Who’s leading the charge, you may ask?

Judges, police officers, and juvenile detention directors — and they know what they’re talking about; it is their area of expertise, after all.

And hey, it just plain makes sense: how are we going to see any progress or forward motion if we continue to kick trouble students out of school? That’s certainly not going to help them stay out of the streets. The Obama administration also has a hand in things, pushing school districts to keep kids in school.

Don’t worry, though: these relaxed zero tolerance policies don’t apply to students who may be harmful or destructive, so safety is not an issue that comes into play. And, it also doesn’t mean that there are no consequences — students who commit crimes are sent to mandatory counseling, and must perform community service.

And guess what?  

The decrease in zero tolerance policies is working.

The New York Times recently ran an article that focused on the relaxation of zero tolerance policies in Broward County, Florida — apparently, after revising their policies to help kids stay in school (rather than kicking them out), Broward County had vastly improved statistics. Almost immediately after making the change, they saw a staggering 41% drop in school-based arrests.  It’s still a little on the early side to really be able to bask in the rest of the statistical results, but we’re all hopeful that the numbers will continue to improve — now that arrests have decreased, let’s see an increase in graduation rates and academic achievement!

Schools can be a tricky subject for many — it’s a delicate balance.

How do you make it a safe and supportive environment for our kids to learn in when crime is as rampant as it is today? Zero tolerance may not be the answer, but we continue to learn which methods will prove to be most effective. Looks like we’re continuing our education along with our kids!

Approaching Special Education Problems in the Classroom

Managing any child comes with it’s own set of unique troubles, whether it be high-leveled energy, impulsive acts or disruptive tendencies. However, when it comes to children with special needs, your approach to the issue is vital.

If you’re a special needs educator, it’s plain to see how one might collapse without something to support you. That something is classroom management. Luckily, there are numerous options available to help you and the child’s needs.

An Overview

1. Planning ahead

A child’s ability to process efficiently and their level of self-esteem are influenced by how well you’ve arranged your class.

Take extra care to plan out your daily agenda because children with special needs rely on their educators as they would caretakers. Lay out all the activities you wish to accomplish within the day and take it one step at a time. Make sure to include a daily scheduled walk or stretch break to take the kids outside, keep them up and moving.

2. Make accommodations

Each child deserves a certain type of care. If one of the kids needs a wheelchair, an open row to sit should be provided. If a child has issues with social interactions, place him/her within a group of other classmates who work well with others. If one child requires more attention, place them in the front of the room so you can keep a constant eye on their actions.

3. Building self-esteem

It’s pivotal to constantly encourage the children with positive feedback. Ask questions in class, in which they can easily answer. Give the children tasks, such as handing out art materials, collecting homework and erasing the whiteboard to help keep their mind stimulated.

It’s important to treat each child equally and provide all with attention and praise for their work.

4. Attitude

Another key that educators and teachers must learn is recognizing the limits of a child. Take that into consideration and apply it to your demeanor. You’re the authority figure but you should never raise your voice and yell at the child. If a student breaks a rule, apply a consequence that is consistent and fair then continue on with the lesson as planned. Remember to be consistent and keep your cool.

Common Issues in the Classroom and How to Deal

When one child starts to move about in a room, others would follow suite, resulting in lack of attention for the activity as well as chaos in the room.

  1. Excess Energy

Students who struggle with excess amounts of energy, for example, need an outlet for their excess energy in order to curb their impulses. This is done with activities that expend energy for children, such as jogging in place, jumping jacks and activities that allow for movement and action.

Having the student feed the class fish and take charge of cubby organization are subtle ways to address impulse control as well as build self-esteem through responsibilities.

  1. Immaturity

Students who struggle with immaturity, for example, need constant observation of their behaviors in order to improve interaction abilities and social skills. This would include supervised playtime together with extended sessions in order to explain to the child what is allowed and what is not.

A few simple tools to utilize in dealing with immaturity are patience, showing an interest in the child and an investment in their learning process, and modeling the desired behaviors for the children to imitate.

  1. Disruptive Behavior

Students who are disruptive and constantly in motion tend to be seen squirming in their seats, unable to sit still, jiggling their feet, tapping their pencils and incessantly talking. When the impulse is too great, they may stand up and walk around the classroom even in the middle of an activity.

To aid in these impulses find new ways to alter the classroom settings in order to benefit the students. One effective technique seen in the classroom, is the use of exercise balls as alternatives to seats. The fidgeting and wiggling can be balanced out, making for a more relaxed child in the classroom.

It is also important to create variety for the children to avoid boredom, resulting in disruptive actions. Such a way to do so would be using the floor for reading or other places to allow them ways to avoid the feeling of being trapped in the same seat all day.

Applying these techniques and practices will help in the management of your classroom, creating a safe and peaceful learning environment for you and your students.

5 Strategies to Motivate Students Using a Special Education Timeline

Being a parent is challenging, but being a parent to a child with special needs presents its own set of unique challenges.

No matter what type of disability your child has – moderate or severe – you want to make sure that she is receiving the best opportunities possible. This, of course, includes her education. Children with special needs often suffer from a lack of motivation when it comes to learning.

They may feel like they aren’t being challenged enough, or they may feel as if they simply can’t achieve the goals that are set forth for them as a result of their disability. This lack of motivation can have a huge impact on the education of a special needs child.

If you are struggling with this issue with your child, you may be wondering how to get a grip on it. With proper planning and fun and realistic strategies, you can create a special education timeline that will help your special needs child achieve and succeed in her educational endeavors.

1.       Get Her Involved:

The best thing that you can do to motivate your child is to get her involved with her education. Ask her what her goals are and what she hopes to achieve. Ask her what her interests are. Let her help to pick out courses of study and to create an action plan that will allow her to successfully achieve her goals.

The more involved she is in her education, the more accountable she will feel and the more motivated she will be.

2.       Discuss Goals:

Discuss her goals, as well as your goals. What she wants to achieve is important, but what you want her to achieve is also important. Of course, you don’t want to pressure her or make her feel obligated to do something that she has no interested in doing, as this will only contribute to her lack of motivation. However, it is important that you let her know what you hope for her.

Together, you can create a timeline for her to follow that will allow her to achieve her goals.

3.       Be a Coach:

The last thing you want to do is stress your child out by being too overbearing; however, you are going to want to be her coach. Cheer her on. Let her know that she is doing a good job. If she falls off course, gently guide her back on.

Be her support system, but don’t overstep your bounds, as this can make an already unmotivated child even less motivated.

4.       Offer Rewards:

Rewards do have their place, and they can be quite useful when trying to motivate an unmotivated special needs child.

Choose rewards that are beneficial. Don’t offer something superficial for achieving a goal; rather, off something that will further benefit her. For example, if she achieves her goal of getting a specific grade on a history test, reward her with a trip to a museum so she can have a first-hand experience with the history she learned.

5.       Make it Fun:

Nobody likes to complete work that is boring and mundane. If your special needs child is offered boring work, she will very likely be unmotivated to do it.

Try to make tasks as fun and enjoyable as possible. Going on a scavenger hunt to find geometric shapes around the house is much more appealing than completing a stack of worksheets that ask her to circle pictures of geometric shapes. Even if her workload requires completing mundane worksheets, create a fun activity that she can participate in beforehand.

She will be more eager to apply what she learned from the activity to her worksheet, making the worksheet seem less mundane.

If your special needs child is suffering from a lack of motivation, employing these techniques will help to ignite the fire in her desire to achieve and succeed.