New Strategies in Special Education as Kids Learn From Home

Updated: May 19, 2020

This article originally appeared in Edutopia on 3/27/2020 by Nora Fleming.

Around the nation, K–12 schools are frantically trying to adapt to abrupt closures during the coronavirus. But while all teachers are struggling with the new normal, special education teachers in particular are facing unparalleled challenges transitioning both their teaching—and their students and families—to home-based instruction tailored to each student’s needs. “When you say ‘special education,’ you are talking about an umbrella of ages, interests, abilities, and disabilities, within which are individual needs identified by their Individualized Education Program,” explains Margaret Shafer, a third-grade teacher in Morton, Illinois, echoing questions raised by our readers, who wonder how they can provide sufficient support for each of their students who each have very different requirements to learn. Unlike developing a whole-class lesson plan online, special education teachers are now tasked with developing unique plans for every student that align with their IEPs, as required by federal mandate. One huge hurdle, teachers say, is determining if both the learning and services students are accustomed to receiving in school—things like gross motor remediation and behavioral therapy—can even be offered in a home-based setting or through digital resources. 

Both special education and general education teachers have also questioned how much parents and caregivers will be able to help, given that students with special needs often rely on specialized coaching and instruction like cues or sensory activities that keep them on task. “[My students] are non-verbal and need one-on-one direct instruction with multiple prompts or redirection,” explained Beth McGreevy Dworak on Facebook. “Many have attention and behavior deficits and are unable to independently complete most tasks.” Additionally, many students with special needs thrive within the structure of the school day, say educators in our audience, who worry students may be disproportionately impacted by the upheaval brought on by the coronavirus.