Module 7: Working with Children Having Special Education Needs or Disabilities (SEN/SEND)

Understand Constructivism in the Classroom and know your role as a teacher

How do we learn? Watching a young child grow from infancy to toddlerhood, we marvel at the amount of learning that has allowed her to understand her expanding environment. Those early years provide the basis for language, physical dexterity, social understanding, and emotional development that she will use for the rest of her life. What a vast amount of knowledge is acquired before she sets foot in school!

This child taught herself by gathering information and experiencing the world around her. Such learning exemplifies constructivism an idea that has caused much excitement and interest among educators. Constructivism emphasises the importance of the knowledge, beliefs, and skills an individual brings to the experience of learning. It recognises the construction of new understanding as a combination of prior learning, new information, and readiness to learn. Individuals make choices about new ideas to accept and how to fit them into their established views of the world.

In the Classroom

The constructivist teacher sets up problems and monitors student exploration, guides the direction of student inquiry and promotes new patterns of thinking. Classes can take unexpected turns as students are given the autonomy to direct their own explorations.

Constructivist teachers refer to raw data, primary sources, and interactive materials to provide experiences for their students rather than relying solely on another’s set of data. For teachers who have used only one printed text, a shift to other sources may take some adjustment. For example, rather than read about the census, students examine and interpret census data. Or better yet, they plan a mini-census, gather their own data, and interpret the results.

Holding on to What They Believe

Our students represent a rich array of different backgrounds and ways of thinking. Myths, taboos, things we learn from our families, friends, and teachers-all are part of cultural influence. Content is embedded in culture and it is difficult to separate the two. When presented with information in the classroom that contradicts existing ideas, a student may try to accommodate both interpretations, rather than change deeply held beliefs. Unless the teacher realises what views the students hold, classroom teaching can actually help students construct faulty ideas.

If the classroom can provide a neutral zone where students exchange their personal views and test them against the ideas of others, each student can continue to build understanding based on empirical evidence. Hands-on activities and observations of the natural world provide shared experiences for those constructions. For example, to study the phases of the moon, the class could keep a sky journal (an observational log of the moon and its shape in the sky) for several weeks. Small groups discuss the various observations and speculate about their meanings. If models, text references, or illustrations are available as resources, students should know that these are the results of others’ observations and speculations. Such references are actually the constructions by others of the current understanding of the world around us.

Easing into Constructivism

Just as students do not easily let go of their ideas, neither do school boards, principals, parents, or, for that matter, teachers. Ideas like student autonomy and learner-driven inquiry are not easily accepted. Required course content and externally applied assessments are realities that teachers must accommodate. A teacher inspired to change to constructivist instruction must incorporate those realities into her approach.

She might begin gradually, trying one or two constructivist explorations in the regular curriculum. Listening to students as they discuss ideas together is a good way to start shifting the balance of responsibility to the learner. Another step is using primary sources and raw data as the basis of inquiry, rather than relying solely on the text.

If students begin thinking about accumulated knowledge as an evolving explanation of natural phenomena, their questions can take on an exciting dimension. In the next two or three decades, research will change the way most of the accepted facts of today are perceived. Our challenge is to foster students’ abilities so they can continue to learn and build their understanding based on the changing world around them.

In a Constructivist Classroom…

Student autonomy and initiative are accepted and encouraged.

By respecting students’ ideas and encouraging independent thinking, teachers help students attain their own intellectual identity. Students who frame questions and issues and then go about analysing and answering them take responsibility for their own learning and become problem solvers.

The teacher asks open-ended questions and allows wait time for responses.

Reflective thought takes time and is often built on others’ ideas and comments. The ways teachers ask questions and the ways students respond will structure the success of student inquiry.

Higher-level thinking is encouraged.

The constructivist teacher challenges students to reach beyond the simple factual response. He encourages students to connect and summarise concepts by analysing, predicting, justifying, and defending their ideas.

Students are engaged in dialogue with the teacher and with each other.

Social discourse helps students change or reinforce their ideas. If they have the chance to present what they think and hear others’ ideas, students can build a personal knowledge base that they understand. Only when they feel comfortable enough to express their ideas will meaningful classroom dialogue occur.

Students are engaged in experiences that challenge hypotheses and encourage discussion.

When allowed to make predictions, students often generate varying hypotheses about natural phenomena. The constructivist teacher provides ample opportunities for students to test their hypotheses, especially through group discussion of concrete experiences.

The class uses raw data, primary sources, manipulative, physical, and interactive materials.

The constructivist approach involves students in real-world possibilities, then helps them generate the abstractions that bind phenomena together.

SEN Code of Practice

The SEN Code of Practice 2001 has recently undergone a total overhaul which started with various consultations beginning in 2010 that finally culminated with the new SEN Code of Practice (‘CoP’) 2014 on 28 July 2014.  The new SEN Code of Practice came into force on 1 September 2014 and is statutory guidance based on Part 3 of the new Children and Families Act 2014 (and other associated regulations).

It has been hailed as the ‘biggest shake-up to SEN for 30 years’.  Some of the fundamental changes that have been made are:

‘Statements of SEN’ have been replaced by ‘Education, Health and Care (‘EHC’) plans

They now cover ages 0 – 25 as opposed to 2 – 19

There should now be better integration between LAs and others working with education, health and care provisions

Children and young people with SEN or a disability (‘SEND’) and their families are to be put at the centre of the process

The SEN CoP 2014 applies to LAs, maintained schools, pupil referral units (‘PRU’), academies, free schools, non-maintained special schools and colleges.  They must all take account of the CoP when dealing with children and young people with SEND.


The SEND Code of Practice 2015 (COP) provides statutory guidance on duties, policies and procedures relating to Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014 (the Act) and associated regulations, and applies to England. It came into force in September 2014 and was last revised in January 2015.

Schools and colleges have a transition period until April 2018 to fully implement Education Health and Care (EHC) plans. The changes in respect of students currently covered by School Action and School Action Plus were completed by September 2015.

The SEND Code of Practice says:

“All children and young people are entitled to an education that enables them to make progress so that they:

  • achieve their best
  • become confident individuals living fulfilling lives, and
  • make a successful transition into adulthood, whether into employment, further or higher education or training”

The duties on schools to make SEN provision

The SEND Code of Practice says all schools must:

  • use their best endeavours to make sure that a child with SEN gets the support they need – this means doing everything they can to meet children and young people’s SEN
  • ensure that children and young people with SEN engage in the activities of the school alongside pupils who do not have SEN
  • designate a teacher to be responsible for co-ordinating SEN provision – the SEN co-ordinator, or SENCO.
  • inform parents when they are making special educational provision for a child
  • publish an SEN information report and their arrangements for the admission of disabled children, the steps being taken to prevent disabled children from being treated less favourably than others, the facilities provided to enable access to the school for disabled children and their accessibility plan showing how they plan to improve access progressively over time

What is SEN support?

Every child with special educational needs should have SEN support. This means help that is additional to or different from the support generally given to other children of the same age. The purpose of SEN support is to help children achieve the outcomes or learning objectives set for them by the school. Schools should involve parents in this process. If the child is on School Action or School Action Plus they should transfer to SEN support.

Every school must publish an SEN information report about the SEN provision the school makes. Parents can find this on the school’s website. Parents can also ask the child’s teacher or the school’s Special Educational Needs Coordinator for information on the SEN provision made by the school.

The Local Offer should also be published by local authorities setting out what support it expects early years settings, schools and colleges to make for all children and young people with SEN or disabilities.  SEN support can take many forms, including:

  • a special learning programme for the child
  • extra help from a teacher or a learning support assistant
  • making or changing materials and equipment
  • working with the child in a small group
  • observing the child in class or at the break and keeping records
  • helping your child to take part in the class activities
  • making sure your child has understood things by encouraging them to ask questions and to try something they find difficult
  • helping other children work with your child, or play with them at break time
  • supporting your child with physical or personal care, such as eating, getting around school safely, toileting or dressing.

Who decides what SEN support the child has?

The SEND Code of Practice says

“Class and subject teachers, supported by the senior leadership team, should make regular assessments of progress for all pupils. These should seek to identify pupils making less than expected progress has given their age and individual circumstances.”

The school should then decide if the child needs SEN support. The school should talk to parents and the child about this. If a young person is 16 or older the school should involve them directly. Sometimes parents may be the first to be aware that the child has some special educational needs. If parents think the child may need SEN support then they should talk to the child’s teacher or to the Special Educational Needs Coordinator. If they are not happy about the support of the child as you can ask to talk to the Special Educational Needs Coordinator or the headteacher.

A graduated approachThe SEND Code of Practice says

  • Where a pupil is identified as having SEN, schools should take action to remove barriers to learning and put an effective special educational provision in place. (6.44)

When a child is identified as having SEN, the school should use a graduated approach based on four steps. These are Assess, Plan, Review, Do


Teaching staff should work with the Special Educational Needs Coordinator to assess your child’s needs, so that they give the right support. They should involve a parent in this and, where possible, seek your child’s views. The SEND Code of Practice says: “Schools should take seriously any concerns raised by a parent.” Sometimes schools will seek advice from a specialist teacher or a health professional. They should talk to you about this first.


If the school decides that the child needs SEN support it must tell parents. The school should talk with parents about the outcomes that will be set, what help will be provided and agree on a date for progress to be reviewed.


Child’s class or subject teacher is usually responsible for the work that is done with the child and should work closely with any teaching assistants or specialist staff involved. The school should tell parents who are responsible for the support the child receives. All those who work with the child should be made aware of: “their needs, the outcomes sought, the support provided and any teaching strategies or approaches that are required.”


The school should review the child’s progress, and the difference that the help the child has been given has made, on the date agreed in the plan. Parent and the child should be involved in the review and in planning the next step. The SEND Code of Practice says “Schools should meet with parents at least three times a year.” Sometimes it helps to involve other professionals in further assessment or to support planning the next steps. If the child has not made reasonable progress it will be important to agree with the school what should happen next.

Key principles of SEN Code of Practice

The code reflects good practice in many mainstream schools and colleges. The key principle that underpins the code is that SEN provision affects all staff; schools and colleges to start with the question.

“Are we an inclusive community?”

The COP makes clear that in carrying out their functions under the Act in relation to disabled children and young people and those with SEN, local authorities must have regard to:

  • the views, wishes and feelings of the child or young person, and the child’s parents
  • the importance of the child or young person, and the child’s parents participating as fully as possible in decisions and being provided with the information and support necessary to enable participation in those decisions
  • the need to support the child or young person, and the child’s parents, in order to facilitate the development of the child or young person and to help them achieve the best possible educational and other outcomes, preparing them effectively for adulthood.

The definitions of SEN remain the same but the code is clear that behavioural difficulties should not automatically lead to pupils being identified as having SEN and extends the definition to young people up to the age of 25.

There is a strong focus on progress, embedding a culture of high expectations for all as well as a greater focus on the views and decision-making role of young people and parents and on a successful transition to adulthood.

The role of the local authority and the local offer

The local authority (LA) has a duty to coordinate a ‘local offer’ of all SEN services in the area and to provide information, advice and support, including information on the statutory assessment process.

0-25 Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans for young people with more complex needs

EHC plans will replace statements and Learning Difficulty Assessments over three years. The legal test for an EHC plan remains the same as for a statement and there are new duties on education, health and social care to jointly plan and commission support.

Parents and young people over 16 with an EHC plan can request a personal budget for part of their support; such provision to be specified in the EHC plan.

Parents and young people over 16 can request a particular school or college to be named in the EHC plan. The LA must comply unless the institution is unsuitable or incompatible with the efficient education of others, or the efficient use of resources

All other young people with SEN have ‘additional SEN needs’

This change came into force in September 2015 and replaces School Action and School Action Plus. The code outlines a ‘graduated approach’ formed of four actions (assess, plan, do, review), to ensure effective support through decisions that are revisited and refined. There should be a clear set of expected outcomes, which include academic and developmental targets, and provision should be accurately recorded. Teachers remain responsible for progress.

Differentiated teaching, performance management and professional development

The code says the first response to pupils who have or may have SEN is high-quality, differentiated teaching. It advises schools and colleges to make the quality of teaching and progress for pupils with SEN, a core part of the performance management and professional development for all teaching and support staff and to build the identification of SEN into the overall approach to monitoring progress and development of all pupils. Schools and colleges should regularly review the quality of teaching for pupils at risk of underachievement and their teachers’ understanding of strategies to identify and support SEN.

Progress: involving parents and pupils

A teacher with a good understanding of the young person, supported by the SENCO, should meet parents at least termly to set clear goals, to review progress made and identify the responsibilities of the parent, pupil and school. The code suggests that schools and colleges ensure that teachers are supported to manage these conversations as part of their professional development.


There are 11 chapters in the CoP. Within each chapter, there are various sub-headings, including but not limited to the information provided below.

Chapter 1: Principles

  • Principles underpinning the CoP
  • Supporting children, young people and parents to participate in decisions about their support
  • Involving children, young people and parents in the planning, commissioning and reviewing services
  • Identifying children and young people’s needs

Chapter 2: Impartial information, advice and support

  • Who are information, advice and support for?
  • What needs to be provided?
  • Additional support

Chapter 3: Working together across education, health and care for joint outcomes

  • Scope of joint commissioning outcomes
  • Establishing effective partnerships across education, health and care
  • Partnership with children, young people and parents

Chapter 4: The Local Offer

  • What is the Local Offer
  • Preparing and reviewing the Local Offer
  • Keeping the Local Offer under review
  • Publishing comments about the Local Offer

Chapter 5: Early years providers

Improving outcomes: high aspirations and expectations for children with

  • SEN
  • Equality Act of 2010
  • SEN in the early years
  • From birth to two – early identification
  • Identifying needs in the early years

Chapter 6: Schools

  • Equality and inclusion
  • Careers guidance for children and young people
  • Identifying SEN in schools
  • Special education provision in schools
  • Requesting an EHC needs assessment
  • The role of the SENCO in schools

Chapter 7: Further education

  • Statutory duties on post-16 education
  • Careers guidance for young people
  • Identifying SEN
  • SEN support in college
  • Funding for SEN support

Chapter 8: Preparing for adulthood from the earliest years

  • Strategic planning for the best outcome in adult life
  • Duties on local authorities
  • Starting early
  • Support from year 9 onwards (age 13-14)
  • Children and young people with EHC plans: preparing for adulthood reviews
  • Young people preparing to make their own decisions
  • The Mental Capacity Act
  • Transition to adult health services

Chapter 9: Education, health and care needs assessments and plans

  • Requesting an EHC needs assessment
  • Considering whether an EHC needs assessment is necessary
  • Principles underpinning co-ordinated assessment and planning
  • Advice and information for EHC needs assessment
  • Deciding whether to issue an EHC plan
  • Transparent and consistent decision-making
  • Finalising and maintaining the EHC plan

Chapter 10: Children and young people in specific circumstances

  • Looked after children
  • Care Leavers
  • SEN and social care needs, including children in need
  • Children and young people educated out of the area
  • Children and young people with SEN educated at home
  • Children with SEN who are in alternative provision
  • Children and young people with SEN who are in youth custody

Chapter 11: Resolving disagreements

  • Early resolution of disagreements
  • Disagreement resolution arrangements and mediation
  • Mediation
  • Registering an appeal with the Tribunal

Parents’ and young people’s rights to appeal to the Tribunal about EHC needs assessments and EHC plans


The role of a SENCO is varied, challenging, and ultimately rewarding. There are many aspects of this job that require various skills such as teamwork, time management, prioritising, managing finances, determination and compassion. SENCOs must have a love and enthusiasm for the goal they are ultimately working towards providing the best individual academic opportunities for all pupils with SEN.


‘SENCO’ stands for Special Educational Needs Coordinator.


SENCOs can work in either mainstream primary or secondary schools.


By law, all mainstream schools are required to have a SENCO. However, unlike in mainstream schools, where SENCOs are legally required to be qualified as a teacher/in the process of qualifying, there is no such requirement in special schools. Some special schools will employ a member of staff to essentially carry out the work a SENCO would be required to complete. They may also employ people to assist with the admin work SENCOs have to deal with.


SENCOs work to help pupils with special educational needs (SEN) in their school. SENCOs also support all of the other pupils in a school, but in a less direct way. A SENCO’s primary aim is to help and support pupils with SEN. SENCOs are there to provide all the pupils with SEN the best academic chances and development available to them.


Under The Education (Special Educational Needs Coordinators) (England) Regulations 2014 a SENCO must be either: a qualified teacher; headteacher/appointed acting headteacher; or, where a person becomes the SENCO at a relevant school after 1 September 2009, and has not previously been the SENCO at that or any other relevant school for more than 12 months, the school must ensure that the person holds “The National Award for Special Educational Needs Co-ordination” if they are the school’s SENCO at any time after the third anniversary of the date that person became a SENCO. There are great similarities in the role of a teacher and a SENCO and so understandably, the requirement to be a qualified or nearly qualified teacher is necessary.


Along with other employees in the school, such as subject teachers and headteacher, heads of department, and TAs, SENCOs will work with Governors, pupils’ parents, Connexions staff, external agencies and educational Psychologists, to name a few. There are also FE colleges, health services, CAMHS, social services, family support workers, youth groups and much more.


The National Standards for Special Educational Needs Coordinators (1998), says that there are four suggested areas of SEN coordination:

  • strategic direction/development of SEN provision in school
  • teaching/learning
  • leading and managing staff
  • efficient/effective deployment of staff and resources

Yes, SENCOs must also coordinate the professional development of colleagues. This is concerned with:

  • leading to national and local policies related to SEN
  • reviewing and monitoring school systems and resources
  • providing an SEN perspective across the whole school framework
  • initiating and developing approaches in the classroom

The main duties of a SENCO will be required to carry out in a mainstream school are set out in the SEN Code of Practice (CoP) 2014 and include:

  • -overseeing the  day-to-day   operation  of  the  school’s  SEN  policy
  • -co-ordinating  provision  for  children  with  SEN
  • -liaising  with  the  relevant  Designated  Teacher  where  a  looked  after the pupil has  SEN
  • -advising  on  the  graduated  approach  to  providing  SEN  support
  • -Advising  on  the  deployment  of  the  school’s  delegated  budget  and  other resources  to  meet  pupils’  needs  effectively
  • -liaising  with  parents  of  pupils  with  SEN
  • -liaising  with  early  years  providers,  other  schools,  educational  psychologists, health  and  social  care  professionals,  and  independent  or  voluntary bodies
  • -being  a  key  point  of  contact  with  external  agencies,  especially  the  local authority  and  its  support  services
  • -liaising  with  potential  next  providers  of  education  to  ensure  a  pupil  and  their parents  are  informed  about  options  and  a  smooth  transition  is  planned
  • –working  with  the  headteacher  and  school  governors  to  ensure  that  the school  meets  its  responsibilities  under  the  Equality  Act  (2010)  with  regard to  reasonable  adjustments  and  access  arrangements
  • -ensuring  that  the  school  keeps  the  records  of  all  pupils  with  SEN  up  to  date

The role of a SENCO can subsequently be divided into six main areas:

  • Whole-school SEN coordination

A SENCO has the ultimate responsibility for managing and coordinating the well-being, learning and education of all SEN pupils in a school. A SENCO is required to be adaptable and deal with tough and sensitive situations in the face of adversity. They must also organise the necessary involvement with external services, such as an Educational Psychologist, and people involved in a pupil’s School Action, School Action Plus, or Statement. SENCOs must be aware of any changing SEN legislation, practices and policies and potential funding changes that could affect the standard of education for pupils with SEN. SENCOs are also responsible for the whole-school improvement of the development and achievement of pupils with SEN. SENCOs need to make sure the school’s SEN policy is suitable for the pupils with SEN and is providing them with the best opportunities to meet their needs.

  • Good time management

A SENCO must manage their time effectively, to ensure they prioritise their role of a SENCO with their other position as a teacher if they are currently teaching. SENCOs must be able to communicate effectively with the relevant members of teaching staff, Connexions Personal Adviser and external bodies such as parents and governors. A SENCO will be required to observe SEN classes, as well as teach pupils with SEN and successfully manage the learning and development of the SEN team within the school.

  • Strategic planning

SENCOs must plan their responsibilities and duties effectively, so as to be able to effectively oversee and manage the school’s SEN policies and coordination of provisions made for pupils with SEN. SENCOs will have to balance any other teaching commitments alongside their role as a SENCO. Some schools employ additional members of staff to provide admin support for SENCOs.

  • Business/money management

Each school is provided with allocated funding to use specifically for their pupils with SEN. A SENCO has the responsibility of knowing their school’s funding arrangement and monitoring it. It is vital that the allocation of the funds available to the SEN team is used most effectively to maximise the special educational provisions for their pupils with SEN. Here, there are three strategies to consider:

  1. Fit strategy
  2. Stretch strategy
  3. Strategic aim
  • Monitoring and evaluation

A SENCO must carefully and regularly monitor the school’s SEN practice and policy. This is to ensure all of the SEN pupils are having their educational needs met, and that they are provided with the best opportunities for maximising their individual educational potential.

  • Managing and training staff

SENCOs also have the important task of improving the knowledge and understanding of staff about the individual needs of pupils with SEN. This includes colleagues, TAs, support staff, the SLT and to some extent parents and governors. A better and clearer understanding of a pupil with SEN will help both SENCOs and the relevant employees of the school to ensure that each pupil is provided with suitable special educational provisions.

  • Classroom Management Strategies for Children with Special Needs
  • Classroom management strategies Inclusion is a great thing. Children with special needs are no longer isolated in “Special Ed” classrooms and only seen on the playground or in the lunchroom. Kids with special needs thrive in the presence of their peers. There are so many lessons that children with special needs can learn from other kids, and so many friendships to be formed.
  • Children with autism spectrum disorder and other learning disabilities, such as ADHD, perform better, both academically and socially, if the classroom is set up to accommodate their special needs.

Teachers are called upon to be creative and innovative when preparing classrooms. Managing an all-inclusive classroom is easier if simple, personalised teaching strategies for the special needs student are implemented. The following tips will help you create a learning environment that will help students bloom where they are planted!

  1. Use computer-based programs to hold the interest of students with autism.
  2. Set the desks in the classroom is rows, rather than using circular seating around large tables, if possible. Students with autism need their own space. The student with ADHD is easily distracted, so a seat close to the teacher, facing forward works best. Children with special needs are easily distracted, so keep their desks away from the windows, doors and activity centres in the classroom.
  3. Post classroom rules in a conspicuous place in the classroom, and review them regularly. Ask students to take turns reading the rules aloud as part of the daily routine. Make sure all students understand the rules of the classroom and the consequences of not adhering to them. It may be helpful to allow the class to help formulate the classroom rules.
  4. Keep it simple. Give verbal prompts frequently, and be sure your instructions are easy to understand. Repeat instructions if the student does not seem to comprehend what you are saying.
  5. Use visual aids such as charts, graphs, and pictures.
  6. Peers can be wonderful role models for students on the autism spectrum. Pair compatible children together when working on projects or participating in classroom activities. Many children welcome the opportunity to be a peer role model for the special needs student. The experience is not only positive for the student with autism, but for the peer counsellor as well.
  7. Have a predictable schedule. Children with autism tend to prefer predictable routines. Give advance warning if the daily schedule is going to change. If there is going to be a field trip, a special guest in the classroom, or a substitute teacher, try to let the class know in advance. Unexpected changes in the routine can be difficult for a child with autism.
  8. Teach social skills, such as hand raising, taking turns and sharing as part of the learning curriculum. All students will benefit when reminders are given. Children with autism often engage in self-stimulating behaviours such as hand flapping, rocking or even slapping themselves in the face. Help the other students in the class understand these behaviours.
  9. Provide opportunities to take a break. Read a story, play a short game, stand up and stretch, or have a casual conversation. Sometimes an opportunity to get out of his seat and walk around the room can be very calming for the child on the autism spectrum. Try to be aware of the signs that your student may need a short break.
  10. Focus on student strengths. If a child is interested in dinosaurs, baseball, dogs or water sports, he needs the opportunity to exhibit his expertise in that subject. Creating a personalised lesson plan is a great idea. Students with autism thrive when they are studying a lesson plan that was formatted specifically for them.
  11. Be aware of environmental triggers. Loud noises, bright lights, and hot or cold temperatures can disrupt a child’s thinking pattern and cause unnecessary classroom outburst. Be mindful of these environmental triggers and eliminate them whenever possible.

Physical Difficulties, Sensory Difficulties, Cognitive Impairments of Pupils

Physical Disability


There is a wide range of physical disabilities (PD) and those affecting pupils cover the whole ability range.  Some pupils are able to access the curriculum and learn effectively without additional educational provision.  They have a disability but do not have a special educational need. For others, the impact on their education may be severe. In the same way, a medical diagnosis does not necessarily mean that a pupil has SEN.  It depends on the impact the condition has on their educational needs.

There are a number of medical conditions associated with a physical disability which can impact on mobility.  These include Cerebral Palsy, heart disease, Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus and Muscular Dystrophy.  Pupils with physical disabilities may also have sensory impairments, neurological problems or Learning Difficulties.  Some pupils are mobile but have significant fine motor difficulties which require support.  Others may need augmentative or alternative communication aids. Students with physical disabilities are now taught in inclusive classrooms with their peers. Educating them can require modifications and different methods of teaching.

Physical disabilities in students can include a wide range of both congenital and acquired disabilities and health issues. According to the All Students Are Equal.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), an individual with a brain injury, orthopaedic impairment, or other health impairment who needs special education or related services is considered to have a physical disability. Some of the common ones include cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and spina bifida. Since many more conditions may affect students in your classroom, you should gather specific information about each child in your classroom and his or her disability.

Set Up the Classroom

Regardless of the specific handicap or condition, some general tips apply when teaching students with physical disabilities. For example, you should arrange the room so that everyone can move around easily. Even if a student does not use a wheelchair or other medical equipment, he may need extra room to get around in class and avoid falling.

A larger desk may help a student balance books, papers, and classroom supplies. This larger table can accommodate a paraprofessional, too, if she is in class with the student. You should also ask the student where he would prefer to sit in the classroom.

Teaching Strategies

Teaching strategies to educate children with physical disabilities include setting up a buddy system so that another student can take notes for the student with the disability. A Paraeducator may be needed to act as a scribe for other in-class requirements.

Specific assignments can be adjusted or modified for students, too. A student who has difficulty speaking due to cerebral palsy may need an alternative presentation format in place of an oral presentation. Do not assume, however, that the student cannot or does not want to give the presentation. He may need more time to speak – and better attention from his audience. The key is to make sure all activities include all students.

Talking to the student about what he can do will help identify a student’s areas of expertise. The student may have become extremely proficient with the computer, for instance, due to the inability to write. Perhaps he can share that knowledge with the class, or show his peers how he uses assistive technology to access the computer. This can provide ways to incorporate computer instruction into a lesson.

Finally, when experimenting with teaching strategies for these types of children, be flexible and accept suggestions. Since most schools or districts employ inclusion specialists, they can provide you with specific guidance in teaching students with physical disabilities. Necessary accommodations or modifications in your classroom can facilitate learning, no matter the impairment.

Teaching children with autism sensory difficulties can provide specific challenges for classroom teachers.

Most children have balanced senses – they will see, hear and feel within the same range. They appreciate the feel of different fabrics, enjoy a range of tastes and tolerate different levels of noise. If they fall, they will recover quickly and continue the activity they were enjoying.

Autistic children, however, have sensory imbalances which can make life tough. It has been recognised that autistic children will present over or under-sensitivity in the areas of sight, sound, touch, taste, smell and body awareness. This can make school a very difficult place to be. The anxiety caused by their sensory imbalances can lead to unwanted classroom behaviours such as rocking, swaying, spinning, fidgeting and clicking or humming noises.


The inability to see the whole object: many ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) children will focus on one detail and the rest of the object is blurred. They are unable to visually process the whole object. This will affect their ability to read facial expressions, as well as their ability to focus when watching films or developing skills in art and design.

The paper is too bright: this dyslexic trait is often found in children with a diagnosis of ASD. The glare from a white page makes the print difficult to see and read. Some children also complain of the print moving on the page, or not being able to determine straight lines.

Poor depth perception – many autistic children cannot determine how close or far away an object is and will have difficulty telling if an object is moving towards them. This will pose problems in PE when throwing and catching is required, as well causing them to bump into others who are moving around.


Overload of spoken information: some autistic learners can only process spoken information for a few moments before they become overloaded with speech and lose focus. This will pose problems in lessons which rely on the teacher’s oral delivery, debate and conversation.

Distracted or disturbed by external noise: many autistic children cannot focus on speech if there is a lot of external noise. This also causes a loss of concentration and focus. If the external noise is making them feel anxious, they may sit with their hands over their ears, or rely on the self-soothing action of rocking.

Poor auditory memory: it is common for autistic learners to instantly forget what has just been said to them. They may appear to be listening, but if you ask them to repeat what you have said they will recount just one or two words or phrases. Again, this will have a great impact on their ability to achieve in auditory-based activities such as languages.


Restricted food choice: it is common for the autistic child to eat the same foods at the same time every day. This may be routine-driven, but may also be a result of over-sensitivity to tastes and textures. Restricted food choices can result in them going hungry rather than trying new tastes. It has been well-documented that hunger has a negative impact on a child’s ability to concentrate.

Putting things in the mouth: it is common to see an autistic learner chew the sleeves of his or her school jumper. This is a consequence of having an imbalance with touch. By putting things in their mouth they are relying on the more sensitive nature of their tongue to feel a range of textures.


Over-sensitive to pain: many autistic learners are over-sensitive to pain and even slight knocks or scrapes can lead to a meltdown. It is also common for them to dislike the feel of water in a shower, as well as having their hair washed and brushed. If they are not being guided at home, it may be necessary for a teacher to suggest a routine regarding washing and brushing their hair. This may seem a difficult conversation to have, but most autistic learners will not be offended and will take the advice literally.

Over-sensitive to clothes: many ASD learners look a certain way because they will not get their hair cut, or wear particular clothes. They feel very uncomfortable wearing certain fabrics, or clothes that are too tight, or too small. Looser fitting clothes, short sleeves and soft fabrics make a difference. If the school uniform is particularly coarse, it is a good idea to suggest washing it several times or buying second-hand uniforms.


Over-sensitive to smell: if an ASD learner is over-sensitive to smell, aromas of food from the school canteen may be repulsive. This will affect their ability to concentrate in class and in extreme circumstances make them sick.

Under-sensitive to smell: not being able to recognise smells can affect personal hygiene when the autistic learner hits puberty. If it is clear that they are not following rules of personal hygiene, it is only fair to implement a routine for them regarding daily washing and using deodorant.

Body awareness

Poor balance and faking movements: if an autistic learner dislikes practical subjects, it is easy to assume that they are struggling with being imaginative, or moving away from literal thinking. However, they may also be struggling with body awareness and manipulation. Many find it very difficult to produce movements that they do not consider their own. They may have poor balance or a stiff gait and will often struggle to learn choreography. This will make subjects such as dance, drama and PE physically very difficult for them.


The self-soothing behaviours such as rocking, spinning, swaying and fidgeting are often called “stims” and are often a result of sensory imbalance or dysfunction. If, as teachers, we can learn and identify the sensory difficulties experienced by our autistic learners, we may be able to get to the root of the problem and avoid them “stimming” in class. Often, older learners are able to tell you clearly what their sensory imbalances are and a little prior thought and planning can help them suffer less anxiety and avoid unwanted behaviours in class.

Strategies to Support a Student with a Cognitive Impairment

Students with a cognitive impairment may experience difficulties with various functions of the brain, particularly, short-term memory, concentration and planning. Each student has different needs and will require various support mechanisms.

This section provides specific strategies to assist and support students with cognitive impairment. Inclusive Teaching Strategies provides additional suggestions to benefit all students’ including students with a disability.

Teaching Strategies may include:

  • Provide clear, detailed instructions (verbal and written) where appropriate
  • Regular prompts to initiate critical thinking and to stay on task may be required in workshops/practicals/tutorials
  • Step by step guides and/or assistance may be useful where problem-solving is required
  • Allow lectures to be recorded if requested by a student and where possible make copies of your lecture notes available
  • Provide a quiet distraction-free environment, if possible e.g. allow students to leave the room for small group activities
  • Avoid putting the student on the spot by targeting them for questions or reading aloud in classes (unless the student has indicated their willingness to participate e.g. raised their hand)

How to Deal with Pupils with Autism

Every child has the right to free appropriate education. Autistic children would, however, need special care and strategies to be taught. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are generally called autistic children. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)  is a complex and multi-layered neurological variation that manifests differently from person to person. This creates a challenge when determining how to teach autistic children. Although each child is an individual who responds to teaching methods differently, there are a few strategies that are generally applied to help autistic children succeed in educational goals. These strategies build on the characteristics of autism, including differences in communication, social skills, behaviour, and sensory issues.  

Helping with Communication:

  • Accept and understand that all children are capable and competent. All autistic children are able to learn. Autistic children may always have differences and therefore they should not be evaluated on the same basis as their neurotypical class friends. Autistic children should be evaluated in relation to their own grown and learning over time.
  • Speak in clear, precise language with autistic children as they may struggle with sarcasm, idioms, puns, and jokes. So, when talking to them, a Special Needs Educator should be as precise and specific as possible.
  • Avoid giving lengthy verbal instructions. Autistic children often have trouble processing sequences of verbal instructions. Allow them extra time to process what the verbal instructions are as some autistic children have problems processing what they hear. If the children are able to read, then write down the instructions clearly. If the child is still learning, written instructions with pictures might help. Give commands in short sentences as much as possible.
  • It is always useful to communicate with autistic children using functional aids if necessary. Some autistic children learn to communicate via sign language, pictures, or a voice output device. If an autistic child uses any of these aids to communicate, learn the system so that you can effectively use it.

Helping with Social and Behavioural Issues

  • Use special or particular interests to facilitate the learning process. Some autistic children are more motivated by their special passion than other things and this particular interest can be used as an advantage when teaching. For example, if a child loves a particular toy, you can use that toy to teach.
  • Autistic children have difficulties being attuned to emotion, motivations, and other social cues. Precisely and clearly explaining social and behavioural issues can be helpful as they can be confusing to many autistic children. Many autistic children are capable of learning how to interact appropriately. They may simply need to be told techniques precisely, instead of picking them up only through observation.
  • Reading stories to show proper behaviour in different situations can be very useful.  For example, read a story about a child who is sad and point out a frown or tears as examples of sadness to help an autistic child learn how to pick up on emotional situations. Stories will help them by providing different behaviours to model in various situations.
  • Many autistic children thrive on a predictable schedule, so providing them with the certainty to know what to expect each day is useful and beneficial. If there are not enough structure autistic children may be overwhelmed or confused. Giving them time-specific tasks would help the child to get specific achievements. Time-specific tasks can be given using picture schedules or using a clock on the wall and tape images that represent the day’s activities and the times they occur.   

Helping with Sensory Issues

  • Autistic children often have trouble coping with different environments or chaotic spaces. So it would be a good idea to construct your teaching area with separate and defined stations such as toys, crafts, and dress up. You need to have a calm and quiet space where the child can take breaks if they are overwhelmed. You can also place physical indications of defined areas on the floor, such as mats for each child to play upon, a taped square outline for a reading area, etc.
  • Observation of the child’s self-created framework for learning which may involve particular objects, tools, toys, behaviours, or rituals that support learning or memory. But again this may vary child to child. Whatever it may be, you should allow the children to learn within their own framework which they will be comfortable with.
  • Accepting and understanding a child’s self-stimulatory behaviour such as flapping hands or fidgeting, frequently observed among autistic persons. The term used to identify such behaviours is ‘stimming’. Stimming is important to autistic children’s sense of well-being and concentration. Be respectful of autistic children’s stimming rather than teaching them to suppress them. Sometimes, an autistic child may seek stimulation from biting, hitting, or otherwise harming themselves or others. In such a situation, it is best to speak with the special education coordinator to figure out how to help the child use a replacement stim that does not cause harm. It’s always better to avoid telling an autistic child not to stim as this can make him feel bad or ashamed of himself.
  • Have the understanding of an autistic child’s reactions to certain stimulus. For example, if a child panics every time someone touches their head, it may be because it is painful to them. It should be noted that many autistic persons have a low pain threshold. So, it is appropriate that you may need to explain other members of the class that autistic child is not reacting just to make others laugh and that they do not like whatever the particular stimulus is. Autistic children are often bullied unintentionally, as neurotypical children can find their reactions amusing or annoying, and do not understand when something is negatively affecting an autistic child.

Understanding the Law and Best Practices

  • For a Special Educator, it is very important to know about the legal rights of autistic children and how best the law can be implemented in educating autistic children. Every child has the right to an education, regardless of disability status. Therefore each and every Special Educator needs to have the proper understanding and the implementation of the SEN Code of Practice which states : “All children and young people are entitled to an education that enables them to make progress so that they: achieve their best, become confident individuals living fulfilling lives, and make a successful transition into adulthood, whether into employment, further or higher education or training”

The following some of the effective tips, ideas and strategies are to help teachers in the classroom.

  • Use Task Analysis –very specific, tasks in sequential order.
  • Always keep your language simple and concrete. Get your point across in as few words as possible. Typically, it’s far more effective to say “Pens down, close your journal and line up to go outside” than “It looks so nice outside. Let’s do our science lesson now. As soon as you’ve finished your writing, close your books and line up at the door. We’re going to study plants outdoors today”.
  • Teach specific social rules/skills, such as turn-taking and social distance.
  • Give fewer choices. If a child is asked to pick a colour, say red, only give him two to three choices to pick from. The more choices, the more confused an autistic child will become.
  • If you ask a question or give an instruction and are greeted with a blank stare, reword your sentence. Asking a student what you just said helps clarify that you’ve been understood.
  • Avoid using sarcasm. If a student accidentally knocks all your papers on the floor and you say “Great!” you will be taken literally and this action might be repeated on a regular basis.
  • Avoid using idioms. “Put your thinking caps on”, “Open your ears” and “Zipper your lips” will leave a student completely mystified and wondering how to do that.
  • Give very clear choices and try not to leave choices open-ended. You’re bound to get a better result by asking “Do you want to read or draw?” than by asking “What do you want to do now?”
  • Repeat instructions and checking to understand. Using short sentences to ensure clarity of instructions.
  • Providing a very clear structure and a set daily routine including time for play.
  • Teaching what “finished” means and helping the student to identify when something has finished and something different has started. Take a photo of what you want the finished product to look like and show the student. If you want the room cleaned up, take a picture of how you want it to look sometime when it is clean. The students can use this as a reference.
  • Providing warning of any impending change of routine, or switch of activity.
  • Addressing the pupil individually at all times (for example, the pupil may not realise that an instruction is given to the whole class also includes him/her. Calling the pupil’s name and saying “I need you to listen to this as this is something for you to do” can sometimes work; other times the pupil will need to be addressed individually.
  • Using various means of presentation – visual, physical guidance, peer modelling, etc.
  • Recognising that some change in manner or behaviour may reflect anxiety (which may be triggered by a [minor] change to routine).
  • Not taking apparently rude or aggressive behaviour personally, and recognising that the target for the pupil’s anger may be unrelated to the source of that anger.
  • Avoid overstimulation. Minimising/removal of distracters, or providing access to an individual work area or booth, when a task involving concentration is set. Colourful wall displays can be distracting for some pupils, others may find noise very difficult to cope with.
  • Seeking to link work to the pupil’s particular interests.
  • Exploring word-processing, and computer-based learning for literacy.
  • Protecting the pupil from teasing at free times, and providing peers with some awareness of his/her particular needs.
  • Allowing the pupil to avoid certain activities (such as sports and games) which s/he may not understand or like, and supporting the pupil in open-ended and group tasks.
  • Allowing some access to obsessive behaviour as a reward for positive efforts.



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