Special Needs Students Can Love to Learn

One question I am asked on a regular basis is: “How do I teach the basic five subjects that are required in Texas when my child has a special learning need?” Below I have addressed the most frequent special needs learning diagnoses about which I receive questions.  I hope these listings (and the linked resources) help you as a special needs home schooling parent to understand the basics of teaching your student, and build confidence in your ability to accommodate your child’s specific learning needs.

The lists below are guidelines based on generalized prevalent struggles a student experiences with a specific diagnosis.  In addressing the subject of “Good Citizenship”, generalized ideas are provided only on how to build life skills into your student’s study and activities, since this subject is broadly interpreted. Also, when teaching any child, remember it is always best to provide instruction at your student’s cognitive level instead of his age or grade level, because that is the level your student is able to comprehend the presented material. Each child is unique and should be taught accordingly.

ADHD/ADD/Executive Functioning:

Reading: Use e-books with an auditory component to listen to while reading on screen. Teach reading in small chunks so the student can be asked questions about what he or she read and process those before moving on.

Writing: Allow writing to be done with visual aids (drawn pictures or PowerPoint). Use back and forth dialogue to help your student consider details left out of the writing, pictures, or presentation.

Spelling: Use apps for spelling and vocabulary that repeat words often to help solidify how words are spelled and their definitions.

Math: Use a math program that does not have excessive words or distracting pictures, while stressing repetition of already learned facts.

Good Citizenship: In every subject you teach your child, teaching organizational skills along with facts in the form of lists, timelines, organizational charts, calendars, and digital reminders is a critical component to helping your child develop skills for success.

For a more comprehensive list of accommodations and modifications for a child who experiences Executive Functioning issues, check out the list contained in this linked article: Executive Functioning…”What is this anyway?”


Reading: Use e-books with an auditory component. Allow use of videos to supplement reading material and be consistent about testing new methods to help your student gain work-around strategies for Dyslexia struggles.

Writing: Do not limit writing to just text on paper or a device; allow your student to express knowledge, stories, and material through oral presentations, art, music, film making, and other means of expression.

Spelling: Use a spelling program that teaches words by groups. Allow use of spell check on longer assignments. Realize that spelling for a child who struggles with Dyslexia will progress at a much slower pace than a child who does not have Dyslexia–be patient.

Math: Minimize word problems or math programs that require reading. Visual-spatial math programs or online math curriculums with visual “whiteboard” instruction work best.

Good Citizenship: In every subject, it is important to teach your student how to find methods to intake information in a manner that makes logical and meaningful sense. Forcing your child to read a textbook about history when he cannot understand the text will teach him much less than finding an engaging historical fiction audio book or documentary movie on the subject. Focus on content delivery when finding ways to teach your student.

For a more comprehensive list of accommodations and modifications for Dyslexia, check out this link: 5 Common Accommodations and Modifications for Dyslexic Students


Reading:  Look for reading instruction material that does not require copy work.

Writing: Consider teaching cursive writing before printing, allowing answers to be presented in verbal form, teaching your student to type at an earlier age, and not requiring long handwriting assignments.

Spelling: Teach spelling orally or through an app, and allow the student to use spell check when working on longer assignments.

Math: Use a computer-based math program or a curriculum with one-on-one instruction where the child can give his or her answers verbally.

Good Citizenship: Remember, very little manual writing is required in adulthood due to the advances in technology. Therefore, as your student learns additional subjects it is crucial to focus instruction on methods of clear expression: keyboarding, talk-to-text, presentations, and oral delivery of material to make up for his or her limited skills in manual writing.

For a more comprehensive list of accommodations and modifications for Dysgraphia, check out this link: Dysgraphia Accommodations and Modifications.

Sensory Processing Disorder/ASD/Aspergers:

Reading: Find reading material that relates to the interests of your student, using many audio and visual means to tie written material into your student’s school work, while he or she is still learning the basic mechanics of reading.

Writing: Make writing assignments logical, short, and for a specific purpose.

Spelling: Teach spelling by word groups.

Math: Teach math in a very logical progression with application-based instruction tied to logic, physics, accounting, and statistics.

Good Citizenship: Your student’s interests will motivate additional learning. Use unit studies to incorporate other subject matter into your school day and to teach your child how his interests blend with the world around him.

For a more comprehensive list of accommodations and modifications for Autism, check out this link: do2learn ASD Strategies

Down Syndrome:

Reading: Use material that can be accompanied by pictures to help aid in the understanding of the material being read.

Writing: Use real life communication as a bridge to connect verbal conveyance of facts and stories with written words, paragraphs, and longer literary works.

Spelling: Use methods that involve rhyming, songs, and the teaching of word groups.

Math: Use a math program with manipulatives as most students with Down Syndrome struggle with abstract concepts, and manipulatives work to bridge the gap between concrete and abstract.

Good Citizenship: Teach your child at a cognitively appropriate level and not his or her age level (unless the subject demands age-appropriate instruction).

For a more comprehensive list of accommodations and modifications for Down Syndrome, check out the section “Teaching Children with Down Syndrome” in this paper: Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota:  Education Resource Packet

Severe and Multiple Disabilities:

Reading: Read-a-louds, movies, and audio books all convey stories and facts (which can be considered pre-reading activities). Learning to track objects with one’s eyes is another pre-reading skill.

Writing: Pre-writing activities include learning how to hold objects, learning to move a hand to touch a communication device, and any other motor skills a student can work on to refine large motor into fine motor movements.

Spelling: Pre-spelling activities have to do with word formation, sounds, and use of language to convey meaning. For non-verbal students, spelling can translate into being able to properly pick cue cards or communication device buttons.

Math: Pre-math activities help children to learn that the world they live in has order, line, shape, and form. Therefore, instruction can include anything that allows students to interact with those concepts.

Good Citizenship: Your instruction gives your student skills to understand the world around her, how it functions, and how to use her abilities to convey needs, discover and learn as lifelong activities, and to interact with her surroundings.

For a more comprehensive list of accommodations and modifications for students with severe learning delays, check out this resource: Access and Attain:  Active Learning for Students with Severe and Multiple Disabilities

Apraxia and Speech Delays:

Reading: Read out loud, use manipulatives or communication devices to help your student sequence the material, and take it slow with the entire reading process using lots of verbal repetition he or she can hear.

Writing: Writing should be viewed in the same manner as reading. Take it slow; use manipulatives and communication devices to help the student create stories and list facts that he or she is unable to verbalize orally.

Spelling: Spelling is learning the sounds letters make to build words. If your student is doing speech therapy to learn how to position his or her mouth to say letters and then combine those letters to build words, these exercises should be considered pre-spelling activities. From those activities, build on sounds and blends to create words and learn spelling.

Math: Addressing math at early levels for a child who deals with speech issues often needs to concentrate a fair amount of time on learning proper sequencing. Once a child learns that there is a sequence that needs to be followed to solve math problems and learns her numbers, use a math curriculum that requires very small amounts of spatial learning without manipulatives.

Good Citizenship: In every subject, it is important to work with your student to discover ways to express (in a logical fashion) what he knows and what he has learned. As your student’s cognitive levels increase and more communication avenues open, it is imperative to include communication instruction so the student becomes more comfortable with sharing information.

For a more comprehensive list of accommodations and modifications for a child with speech issues, check out this article link: Literacy and Children with Apraxia of Speech

Visual Impairment:

Reading: Use braille, audio books, or enlarged print to meet the specific visual needs of your student.

Writing: Visual discrimination issues often require longer initial instruction of pre-writing skills, which may include use of assistive technology. Use of verbal means to communicate ideas, stories, and understanding of concepts also helps a student’s pre-writing skill set.

Spelling: Spelling instruction needs to be tailored specifically to the reading and writing needs of the student and any assistive technology necessary for him to accommodate those needs.

Math: Math taught with manipulatives (such as a moveable counter/number line or abacus) are helpful in conveying math facts to a student with visual impairments.

Good Citizenship: Teaching a child with a visual impairment may require the use of assistive technology and longer instruction time due to the obstacles a student must overcome before being able to develop a fluid method of communication. While your student is developing these basic communication skills, always stress learning as an exciting means for exploration and discovery.

For a more comprehensive list of accommodations and modifications for a child with a visual impairment, check out this link: Teaching Students with Visual Impairments:  School Adaptations

Next month I am going to build on this topic by addressing how to go about creating documentation of how your home schooling methods are accommodating the requirements of your special needs student.

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