Teaching is a difficult job at the best of times and working in special education schools presents particular challenges. When students are especially vulnerable, as they often are in special education programs, then the impact of any teaching errors can be magnified. Conversely, problems also arise when you underestimate the capabilities of students.
Common teaching mistakes in special education schools:
1. Sensory overload
Many students with autism, intellectual disabilities and other learning difficulties have problems with sensory processing. They may be distracted by minor things like the humming of electronics. If you talk too fast or too loud, they may struggle to interpret what you say. Teaching aids designed to make a lesson more engaging may cause sensory overload. Students must feel comfortable and safe in their physical environment before they can absorb a lesson.
2. Failing to use different learning methods
It is well-known in most teaching circles, both mainstream and special needs, that each student learns differently. For example, some prefer to hear information, some like diagrams and visual aids. In a special needs class, this becomes particularly important because sensory or learning difficulties can make it hard for a student to engage with certain formats. Providing written, audible and pictorial cues ensures more pupils will understand.
3. Going too fast
Much of the content of a special needs lesson will be similar to the information taught in a mainstream school. One major difference is that students with learning disabilities often need longer to understand basic tasks. You may need to explain things more slowly and allow more time to process before answering questions or beginning a task, as well as ensuring that plenty of time is allocated for the task itself, so no one feels under pressure.
4. Failing to individualize
It is often said that if you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism. The autism spectrum contains a range of common traits, but they will not manifest the same way in every individual. The same is true of intellectual disabilities. Whilst you can make general plans for managing a special needs class, you also need to adapt to the specific needs of each student. You cannot just place them all in the same box.
5. Treating students in special education programs as if they lack competence
Intellectual disability is not a lack of competence. It is a different way of looking at and processing the world, which can mean, it takes longer to understand information or master certain skills. Students still need to be treated as complete human beings with their own strengths, weaknesses and desires. Ask them what they want and give them opportunities to show what they can do. Do not answer for them or step in to complete a task on their behalf just because it looks difficult.
These are just five common mistakes you can make when teaching students with autism, intellectual disabilities and other learning difficulties. By being aware of these issues, you can prepare properly to avoid them and ensure your students have the best possible quality of lesson.
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