Educational Lessons and Activities for Students with Learning Disabilities
People and communities across the world are increasingly aware of the challenges individuals with disabilities face on a daily basis. Specifically, there is a heightened awareness of the educational needs of students with autism, dyslexia, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Down syndrome, and other conditions. Despite this growing understanding of the struggles students with learning disabilities encounter, schools frequently lack the resources required to overcome these difficulties and provide rewarding learning experiences to all their students. In many cases, teachers and administrators aren’t aware of how frequently these students can participate in standard class lessons and activities.
Many teachers lack confidence in their ability to build strong educational relationships with the children in their classes who have learning disabilities. These teachers can partner with social workers to find ways to reach those students who may be struggling. A social worker can help provide information to a teacher regarding a learning disability and how it impacts the student’s classroom performance. Social workers can also work with the student to develop behavior management strategies and offer counseling to help improve their mental and emotional well-being. And social workers can collaborate with a child’s family to better understand the options and resources that are available to help address that student’s disability.
Here’s a look at several tips and techniques that social workers can use to spark learning for these children, along with helpful resources available for social workers, teachers, schools, and parents who are looking to provide a top-flight education for children who are differently abled.
Statistics on Students with Learning Disabilities
A large part of the growing awareness of students with learning challenges is a result of improved collection of data on the number of students in need of assistance and the most effective approaches for providing the help the students require.
- The percentage of public school students served by federally funded special education programs increased from 8.3 percent to 13 percent between the 1976–1977 and 2014–2015 school years.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) attributes the increase to the enactment in 1975 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The change does not indicate a large increase in the number of students with learning disabilities over four decades, but rather a growing awareness of these conditions and enhanced methods of identifying them in students. For example, there were 93,000 students with autism served by IDEA in the 2000–2001 school year. By 2014–2015, the number jumped to 576,000 as a result of improved techniques for diagnosing students with autism.
- In the 2015–2016 school year, there were 6.7 million students aged 3 to 21 who were receiving special education services.
According to the NCES, 34 percent of students who received special education services in 2015–2016 were identified as having a specific learning disability. Twenty percent of these students had a speech or language impairment, 9 percent were diagnosed with autism, and 6 percent were identified as developmentally delayed.
- The percentage of students aged 6 to 21 served by IDEA who spent most of their school day in general classes increased from 47 percent in 2000 to 63 percent in 2015.
NCES figures show that in the 2015–2016 school year, 95 percent of students participating in IDEA programs were enrolled in “regular schools.” The percentage of students who spent less than 80 percent of their time in general classes during the school day dropped from 30 percent in 2000–2001 to 19 percent in 2015–2016. This data could suggest that general classes have become more accommodating to students with learning disabilities over the years or, potentially, that there aren’t enough resources to assist students with learning disabilities, among other possible explanations.
Lesson and Activity Ideas for Students with Disabilities
Not every teacher has the training and access to resources required to provide students with learning disabilities with the education each child deserves. However, teachers and administrators can still make an impact by creating lessons and activities that engage the special-needs students and address each student’s situation. Social workers are also immensely beneficial in their ability to provide knowledge, support, and resources to teachers and students, helping to ensure that their unique needs are being met and addressed.
Reinforce positive social skills and behavior through stories
Children on the autism spectrum often find it difficult to learn social skills. The education site Scholastic explains that presenting lessons about proper social interactions in story form can help students by providing guidance on social norms that the student relates to easily. For example, if a student with a learning disability is acting out against another student, the social worker can tell the student with the disability a story that reinforces why the negative behavior is inappropriate, and then offer positive alternatives the student can use in the future.
Use multisensory learning activities
For students with dyslexia, learning to read and write is a challenge. By incorporating activities that use the student’s other senses, teachers can help them engage with and retain information through fun and more accessible activities. According to Dyslexic.com, multisensory learning includes writing words and sentences using tactile materials such as uncooked pasta or LEGOs, participating in group scavenger hunts for letters and words, and incorporating physical activities when practicing spelling, such as shooting a basketball or doing a jumping jack for each letter while spelling a word.
Encourage routines, responsibilities, and positive relationships for energetic students
Students with ADHD often have trouble staying still in class. The student’s movements can disrupt classmates. The ADDitude site recommends that social workers work with teachers to create strict routines to help students with ADHD stay on top of their responsibilities. To reduce the fidgeting that frequently accompanies ADHD, ADDitude suggests providing students with opportunities for positive physical activity, such as cleaning the classroom bookshelf or organizing materials stored in the classroom. Students with ADHD and other learning disabilities often benefit from being placed next to a peer who exhibits strong learning habits.
Use visuals to help establish rules and enhance learning
Visuals can often be more beneficial to students with autism than standard instruction techniques are. These tools help children acquire knowledge, better understand social norms, and learn to adopt specific behaviors. For example, students with autism can be persuaded to finish an activity they don’t enjoy by being promised a favored activity afterward. The Scholastic site recommends creating if/then cards to reinforce the concept that completing one task, such as spelling exercises, will result in being allowed to play with the classroom’s pet or indulge in another enjoyable activity. The cards also help students understand the guidelines and expectations of the class.
Encourage students to grow their vocabulary
Students with autism, ADHD, and dyslexia face specific learning challenges, but a common one for all of these students is growing their vocabulary. According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America, parents, teachers, and social workers can use creative methods that are fun and effective to encourage these students to enhance their vocabulary. For example, a teacher might challenge a student with learning disabilities to apply visual tools to remember three new words each week. Teachers can also provide classroom incentives to help motivate students with ADHD or dyslexia to boost their vocabularies.
Make sure other students are aware of their classmate’s disability
Students with learning disabilities often encounter negative stereotypes from their classmates and, at times, from teachers. People who cling to these stereotypes haven’t been educated to understand the student’s condition. Social workers can bridge this gap in understanding, helping to explain the nature of the disability to these people in an informative and compassionate manner, and helping them understand ways they can support the student with learning disabilities. Let other members of the class know what to expect as a way of alleviating some of the struggles a student with disabilities may face. Social workers should encourage teachers to create learning environments where all students can participate in learning activities meant specifically for students with disabilities, if their participation won’t interfere with the student’s educational experience.
Further Resources for Helping Students with Disabilities
Beyond individual lesson plans and other approaches designed for teachers to use in the classroom, many resources are available for social workers that focus on working with families to assist in the education of a child with learning disabilities.
Learning Disabilities Association of America: Support and Resources for Parents
In addition to providing detailed information about a range of specific learning disabilities, the organization provides resources that give parents guidance and advice about their interactions with a child with learning challenges. Topics include recent news and reports on activities by government agencies that relate to students with disabilities. The site features summer reading tips for parents and information about keeping children with disabilities safe outside the classroom.
U.S. Department of State: Internet Resources for Learning Disabilities
The State Department has compiled an extensive list of resources that serve to educate individuals about specific disabilities. The organizations listed in the directory provide support and fun educational activities for students with learning disabilities. They also include tips and suggestions for teachers who work with children with disabilities.
Understood.org: Your Parent Toolkit
Helping a student with learning disabilities begins by understanding the nature of the disability itself. Understood.org helps parents determine whether their child may have a disability or condition that would hinder his or her ability to learn. The site provides specific, customized information on various conditions and explains the impact of the disability from the child’s perspective. For example, if a child in seventh grade is struggling with writing, has problems with nonverbal learning, and suffers from dyspraxia (also called developmental coordination disorder), parents will receive recommendations for resources to meet that child’s specific needs.
Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities
This organization promotes the idea that just because a child has a learning disability doesn’t mean the child isn’t intelligent. Smart Kids helps parents identify and nurture their child’s talents and the activities in which they thrive, even if they struggle in other educational areas. The site’s Community page allows parents to connect with other parents dealing with similar issues and to pose questions to experts on topics related to educating children with learning disabilities.
TeachingLD: Current Practice Alerts
As awareness of learning disabilities increases, the methods that teachers and parents use to interact with learning-challenged children continue to evolve and improve. New studies and research in teaching techniques provide deeper insights and novel strategies to provide these students with a quality education. Current Practice Alerts keep individuals in the loop regarding which methods are most beneficial to children with learning disabilities and which are falling out of favor.
Leading the Effort to Deliver Quality Education to All Students
In today’s educational environment, students are often facing learning disabilities that impact how they perform in school and how much they successfully adjust to a classroom environment. Despite the prevalence of these disabilities, students, parents, and teachers still may not be immediately aware of how to help a child overcome these challnges and obtain the best education possible. Social workers can illuminate teachers, students, and families about these conditions and develop solutions that help children with disabilities obtain a meaningful and impactful education.