Teaching Children with Different Needs

God has created all of us as unique individuals with different gifts and capabilities.
Some of God’s children are born with developmental delays, syndromes, physical disabilities, or neurological imbalances. God has made them all perfectly according to His will.
Isaiah: 44:2 Thus says the Lord who made you and formed you from the womb……

In our human way of thinking these children might not be worth as much as the rest of us, but God is not a respecter of persons. He sees the soul, knows how accountable the individual is and we are of equal value in his sight. Jesus came to earth to serve humankind and he cared deeply for each individual he met. He commanded us to care for each other and is pleased with us when we give of ourselves and serve Him in that way.
Matthew 25: And the King will answer and say to them “Assuredly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me”.

What can we learn from these special children, whom God placed in our care? They are perfect in His sight and have a child-like spirit we all long for. These children don’t judge others or lift themselves up. They are not respecters of persons. Physical appearance is not important to them, but many of them instinctively know if you are trustworthy. Sometimes we might not see the pureness of their souls because we see the difficult behavior that messes up our agenda. Can we look beyond the behavior and see who they really are?

In teaching these special children, we need to realize they deserve as much respect as anyone else. They long for love and security but may not be able to take care of themselves. God has given us the responsibility to shield, care for, and teach these vulnerable children. As special education teachers we are the child’s advocate in our schools. We should try to find ways to help them grow to their full capacity, always cheering them on in taking the next step. Instead of looking at their disabilities focus on their abilities and achievements.

How do we teach these children in our church schools? There are many different needs among them.
Many challenges are in the way of their development, which might include:
Difficulty with concentration
Lack of communication skills
Sensory processing issues
Physical impairments

Lack of reasoning abilities
Or difficulty reading social clues.

Many signs are apparent during early childhood. It is important for parents to support their child in their development as much as possible, in the pre-school years. Giving the child confidence and opportunities to overcome difficulties. Medical support and therapies are available, even though many hoops need to be jumped through to get to the care the child needs. Many of our special children can benefit from physical therapy, speech and language therapy or occupational therapy during their preschool years. Special preschool programs can provide a head-start in academics and learning social skills. Some children attend kindergarten in local public schools, others join our school system.

These special children are eligible for IEP’s. An IEP is an Individualized Educational Program.
For more information:

Most of these children benefit from one-on-one learning. A special ed teacher needs to set goals and develop a program geared toward the child’s needs. These goals should be concrete and be evaluated a few times a year. For some children there might not be lot of quarterly progress, but don’t be discouraged. Rather look back at what the child did a year ago.

Here are some practical tips for special education teachers:

  • Schedule your day with short activities, some maybe 10 or 15 minutes in length. Within one
    subject you might want to have a variety of short activities. For example, 4 addition problems, one
    worksheet, 4 items to compare, counting to 1-100 two times.
  • Use a visual schedule to show the order of the day, so the child knows what comes next.
    Visual schedules can help a child grasp the concept of time and learn sequence of events.
    Some children benefit from tokens, or pictures to show what or how much is expected of them
    during each short activity. Plan less intense activities during the day as well.
  • Use multi-sensory materials such as clay, sand, cards, tokens, manipulatives, play doh, audio books
  • Always start at the level the child can handle, even though this is not where their peers are at. A
    10-year-old child might read at a 1 st grade level.
    Children will feel more satisfaction if they are successful.
  • Realize that mental age and chronological age are not the same and adjust your approach
  • Never assume what is taught has been learned. These children need lots of review to form the
    correct pathways in their brain. Review doesn’t mean the same activity over and over again. It
    means working on one concept in a few different ways.
    However, it might take the child a while to learn the routine of an activity, and not until the child
    learns that, can you determine if the activity is a good teaching tool.
  • Always reflect on your teaching methods. When the child isn’t learning, your method might not be
    the right one. If you don’t change the method, you need to ask yourself “Who is the slow
  • Focus not only on the academics. Learning practical life skills such as tying shoes, baking cookies,
    taking out the trash, saying good morning, picking up the toys, putting the lunch bag away,
    getting ready for class might all need to be explicitly taught. This is not time wasted1
  • Teach with careful scaffolding. This means using small steps to teach new concepts. For each
    student the steps might be different, depending on their comprehension and memorization skills.
  • With visual timers, limits can be set for downtime or worktime. Expectations are very clear.
  • Use topics of interest to keep the student’s attention and connect what is learned to the real
  • Think of quality learned not of quantity taught.
  • Encourage the student to reason. Ask wh questions, when reading stories or looking at picture
    For some students it can be beneficial for you as a teacher to “think out-loud”. As you verbalize
    steps and reason, they can learn to predict, ask questions, and summarize.
  • Use visual reminders of steps in the problem-solving process (especially in math). Give students
    reference possibilities for when they can’t remember the steps. When students learn where and
    how to find answers, they learn to be independent.
  • Realize that these children need more processing time. Don’t expect answers immediately. Repeat
    questions and instructions, give instructions in small steps, organize steps visually, use appropriate
    vocabulary, help summarize.
  • Arrange the classroom without clutter and avoid an overload of stimuli but create a good
    atmosphere, where children can relax.
  • Many children have a difficult time generalizing what they have learned. Incorporate practice of the
    concepts as part of your teaching. For example, when learning about measurements, go out and
    measure the real world.
  • Practice social skills. Use social-stories and apply them by inviting other children to your room or
    joining other children in their room. Play games, act something out or create something fun
    together. Support the child in playing with the class on the playground.
  • Don’t take problem behavior personally. Behavior is communication and these children struggle with
    recognizing and expressing emotions. Always stay calm and make known that you reprimand the
    behavior but still love the child. When the child is calm practice the correct behavior.
    Praise the child for going a good job!
  • When children have a hard time sitting still, incorporate learning activities with lots of movement.
    For example: find the correct special sound card on the floor and bring it to the table.
  • Have the student’s attention before you start the lesson and make sure nothing distractable is on
    the table. The best thing is to sit across from the child which means you will have to work upside
  • Even though the child doesn’t get graded on his/her work, schoolboard, parents, and professionals
    would like to know what happens in your classroom. You should be keeping record of what you’re
    working on and how the child is progressing.
  • For additional resources: https://riicon.ca/cccresource/resources-for-teachers/

School is an extension of the home, that’s why teachers should always keep an open communication with the parents. Understand what’s going on after school hours as it might explain some baffling behavior. Knowing more about the home-life can also help you in your teaching. What would be some good skills for the child to learn and which could be practiced in both settings? Notebooks and WhatsApp are great ways for reports to flow back and forth.

The school however doesn’t just consist of parents and teachers. School boards should be up to date on special education classroom progress and problems.

Our special students benefit the most from a long-standing relationship with the teacher. This creates stability and security for the student. It may take some time to develop a connection with the child. Having the heart of a servant enables us to continue learning with an open mind and connect with these unique children.

Doeteke Jager