Learning disabilities impact the way children are able to process and understand information; they are neurological disorders that might manifest themselves as difficulty listening, thinking, writing, speaking, spelling, or doing mathematical calculations. Dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, visual perception disorders, auditory processing disorders, and language disorders fall under the umbrella of learning disorders. Many children with ADHD also have comorbid learning disorders.
An idea teachers must understand is that students with special needs such as learning disabilities need to be taught differently or need some accommodations to enhance the learning environment. Not everyone learns in the same way, and you can follow some tips to create a well-rounded learning atmosphere.
- Maintain an organized classroom and limit distractions. For students with special needs, maintaining a healthy balance of structure and unstructured processes is important. For example, on each student’s desk, have a place for everything that is clearly labeled (use words or colors, for instance). Also consider using checklists and help students keep their notebooks organized; teach them how to do so on their own, but also check at the end of each day and offer suggestions for keeping it more organized. On the unstructured side of things, allow students with special needs to change their work area while completing homework or studying and assign tasks that involve moving around the room. For students with special needs and learning disabilities, hearing instructions or following directions can be made difficult if there are too many distractions. Schedule breaks throughout the day and seat students with special needs in an area of the classroom that limits distractions; for example, do not sit these children by a window, in front of an open door, or by the air conditioner, as people walking by or additional noises might be too distracting.
- Use music and voice inflection. When transitioning to an activity, use a short song to finish up one task and move to another. Many of us have sung the “clean up” while cleaning up before the next activity; use a similar approach in the classroom. Students with special needs might also respond well to varied voice inflection and tone, so use a mixture of loud, soft, and whisper sounds. Using proper pronunciation and sometimes slightly exaggerating proper speech will help a child model the same principles.
- Break down instructions into smaller, manageable tasks. Students with special needs often have difficulty understanding long-winded or several instructions at once. For children with learning disabilities, it is best to use simple, concrete sentences. You might have to break down a step into a few smaller steps to ensure your students with special needs understand what you are asking. You might even want to put the directions both in print and saying them verbally. Ask your students with special needs to repeat the directions and ask them to demonstrate that they understand. Do not give further instructions until a student has completed the previous task.
- Use multi-sensory strategies. As all children learn in different ways, it is important to make every lesson as multi-sensory as possible. Students with learning disabilities might have difficulty in one area, while they might excel in another. For example, use both visual and auditory cues. Create opportunities for tactile experiences. You might need to use physical cues, such as a light touch, when a student might get distracted or inattentive. Get creative with your lesson plans, and students with special needs will appreciate the opportunity to use their imaginations or try something new; use a balance of structure and familiar lessons with original content.
- Give students with special needs opportunities for success. Children with learning disabilities often feel like they do not succeed in certain areas, but structuring lessons that lead to successful results is a way to keep them motivated. Provide immediate reinforcement for accomplishments, be consistent with rules and discipline, correct errors and reward students when they make these corrections themselves, explain behavioral expectations, and teach and demonstrate appropriate behaviors rather than just expecting students with special needs to pick them up.
While these suggestions are ideal for classroom settings, parents of students with special needs can also implement these principles. Helping children with learning disabilities both in and out of the classroom is the best way to help your students with special needs achieve success.