How to Work with Students with Disabilities

Reneta Perkins
Reneta Perkins
M.Ed. in Advanced Literacy w/ Reading Specialist Certification, Concordia University Texas

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a disabled individual is defined as any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment (Rule 6A-19.001, F.A.C.). For students, a careful analysis of their learning behavior is required to determine if he or she has a learning disability severe enough to be qualified to receive aids, services, or accommodations for instruction and assessment.

Children with learning disabilities often struggle with various areas of academic performance. Academic deficits for these students normally fall into the areas of reading, mathematics, and written expression. The characteristics exhibited by one child with a learning disability may be different than another one with a learning disability. For example, one child may experience significant reading difficulties, while another may face difficulties with written expression or deficits in math.

How to Identify a Disabled Student

The process to determine whether or not a child has a learning disability is complex and should only occur after a number of other steps have been followed. These steps should include a period of observation and collection of applicable documentation. This, most times, begins with the classroom teacher. The teacher will frequently collect a great deal of data on the student’s academic performance, gathered through regular in-class observations and assessments of the child’s progress.

After the classroom teacher has identified and documented continual behaviors that could possibly indicate a learning disability, the student will then participate in a thorough interview.  Teachers, guardians, as well as the school counselor will all be attendance. After which, it will be determined if the student will be placed in the Response to Intervention (RtI) process. This process focuses on early identification and continuous assessment and assistance for students that have learning needs. During Tier III of RtI, students work one-on-one with the teacher or the campus interventionist to receive intensive lessons that target their unique knowledge gaps. This is the final step before a student can be identified as having a learning disability.

Teaching Strategies to Assist with Teaching Students with Disabilities

Once a student has been identified as having a learning disability, teachers and students often develop something called an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). A student may also receive a 504 plan, which provides accommodations and services to students who are identified with a disability but who do not need special education services.

When a child is identified as having a learning disability, teachers introduce strategies that take advantage of stronger areas while accommodating weaker areas. There are a number of ideas teachers can use to connect with children in their classroom. Teachers may have to implement several different approaches to instruction to make an impact on students with learning disabilities. Teachers should consider doing the following:

  • Provide clear written instruction for assignments and due dates
  • Use different colored highlighters: one for main ideas, one for key details, and/or another for definitions
  • If material seems difficult, have the student rephrase information
  • Provide detailed notes for long chapters
  • Suggest that the student use graph paper to assist with aligning math problems.
  • Provide sufficient opportunities for practice

It is important for classroom teachers to remember that students that have learning disabilities do have the ability to learn. Understanding the characteristics and learning styles of students with learning disabilities can lead to a significant improvement in their social and academic performance.

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