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Teaching Tips for Including Students with Severe and Multiple Disabilities

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 2/14/2012

Teachers working with children with severe and multiple disabilities need to ensure they use inclusive practises in their daily activities. Inclusion for students with severe disabilities can require care, thought and extensive planning, as well as lots of creativity. Here are some tips to help.

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    Children with Multiple Disabilities and the Teaching Role

    Children with multiple disabilities or severe disabilities often have significant needs relating to their healthcare, personal care and educational needs. As a teacher, it is important to keep your mind focused on the educational aspect of your work with these children. Your job is to TEACH, as well as to link in as best you can with therapists, doctors, nursing staff and personal care workers who may provide support and care to the child. As such, you need to consider how your teaching practise relates to the goals which have been established in the IEP document for each student, and work towards achieving those goals.

    Yes, it is important to work closely with other specialists, but make sure you keep your own skills in mind too. As a special educator, you too are a specialist with your own unique set of skills. You are not there in the classroom simply to carry out therapy programs, nor are you there to provide light relief in between medical appointments and specialist visits.

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    Inclusion Strategies

    Students who have significant special education needs as a result of their disabilities are highly reliant on your expert teaching skills to get the most out of each day in the classroom. You need to be creative and use your skills to ensure you are meeting the needs of each student with severe and multiple disabilities. Some ways you can do this include:

    1. Focusing closely on a different students' IEP document and goals each day or half day. Get out their IEP and read through it at the start of the day. Ensure your programming closely aligns with their goals and consider whether you need to do any baselining of behaviours or skills, documentation or reporting tasks for that student. Think to yourself, 'Do I need to prepare some Makaton signs and symbols before class for this student?' 'Do I need to discuss their goals with a volunteer or aide so they are focused on the same goals as I am?' etc.

    2. Use volunteers and aides with care, so that they can safely carry out particular tasks that you set for a student which are labour intensive and require one to one support, but in a way which ensures you are meeting your duty of care requirements.

    3. Use technology such as iPods, taped stories, electronic versions of books available online or music to cater for some students in your group when your hands and mind are busy elsewhere in the room. This is a useful inclusion strategy which can relate directly to literacy and numeracy goals by reinforcing learning or providing additional experiences.

    4. Consider physical movement tasks that can be done without direct teacher support, such as hitting a soft ball suspended from a string from the ceiling, or sorting through shapes in a feely box or manipulating a textured toy or object.

    5. Change your environment regularly so that you and your students get out in the fresh air to complete learning tasks.

    6. Inclusion intentions for students with severe and multiple disabilities sometimes leads teachers to do tasks they shouldn't really do as part of their work, such as doing a lift or transfer that is dangerous. Don't!