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Tips for Teaching Teens with Developmental Disabilities

written by: Kathy Foust • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 9/11/2012

It's not always easy to keep the interest of teens, much less those with developmental disabilities. The more a child struggles with educational issues, the more likely they are to develop very little interest in their education. These teaching ideas will help you have a productive classroom.

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    Roadblocks of Being Developmentally Disabled

    Using unique ideas for reaching teens with disabilities means understanding the issues that the teens face.

    • They have a difficult time processing information. Whether the student has difficulty reading or writing, is experiencing cognitive delays or has some related issues, he or she is going to have a difficult time processing the information at all. That's why it's important to provide as much assistance as possible when it comes to the input of information.
    • They are working under the assumption that failure is imminent. Imagine going to a place every day (school) where you know that you are going to struggle to process information. Imagine that you hear the terms "special needs," "disabled," and other such related terms. When students start seeing themselves as those terms rather than the people that they are, they might take it for granted that they can't do the work. Don't let your students fall into this trap.
    • They are teenagers. If you have worked with teenagers at all, you know that even without any kind of developmental delay you might have problems keeping their attention. They are young, full of energy and information and they may even be able to operate your technological devices better than you, but they are teenagers and as such are confused and hard to rein in.
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    Working Around the Roadblocks

    Now that you know some of the problems that the child who is developmentally delayed has to deal with, it's time to start creating methods based on ideas for teaching developmentally disabled teens. Use some of the simple techniques below to make some intrinsic headway and steps toward educational success.

    • See the student, not the disability. It's important that the student learns they are more than just a walking learning disability. They have a unique personality and interests. It's important to get to the crux of those interests so that you can use them in your educational methods. Get to know your student and help them get to know themselves. You can do this with discussions, using the written word to describe themselves or other methods. One great idea is to have student choose an adjective a day to describe themselves. This helps them develop knowledge of the written word as well as knowledge of self.
    • Offer a time-out area. Consider the times when you are having difficulty concentrating. Wouldn't it be nice if you had a stimulation free area to retreat to? Create a time-out space that your students can go to as a way to step out of the chaos of the classroom.
    • Review the clear cut standards of the classroom. If you need to remind your students every morning of the rules of the classroom, then do so. You also need to review the expectations of the classroom. Both systems should come with some type of reinforcement. When the student breaks a rule, there should be clear cut and easy to understand consequences. The same should be true of positive reinforcement methods.
    • Bring education to life. Even students who don't have any learning disorders learn better when the material is in an entertaining format. Use hands on activities for those who have difficulty with the written word. Provide opportunities for personal expression and interpretation of the material. Praise and reward any progress.
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    Learning Disabilites and Creativity

    The type of methods you use to get creative and help your students to achieve their academic goals is going to depend largely on the disabilities that you are trying to overcome. Use the ideas for teaching developmentally disabled teens that are located below as you need them and in the way that works best for you.

    • Act out scenarios. Whether you are working with parts of speech, history lessons or even some science lessons, you can do short scenarios to act out scenes. The students can act them out themselves or use items to act them out. For instance, you might help your students to act out certain parts of history and discuss what other methods may have been more effective.
    • Get creative with reading materials. If your students are only interested in reading comic books, then provide comics as a reward system for them to use upon reaching their literary goals. After all, no matter how the words are written, spending time with some form of written word is bound to help literacy issues.
    • Revert to some elementary methods. Difficult mathematical issues may be easier to grasp if they are presented in simple elementary ways. You can do this in the way of games or physical objects. Keep the terms simple and the actions obvious.
    • Avoid lectures. Those with a short attention span are going to have a hard time sitting through any kind of lecture. Keep things simple and to the point.
    • Smile. Smiling is contagious and creates an enjoyable atmosphere. Students who are enjoying their environment are going to have a much easier time focusing on the task at hand because they aren't made miserable just by walking in the room.
    • Provide tasks to do outside the classroom. Make learning a lifelong experience and fun for your students. Things like cooking are great for developing math skills. Creating models at home is a great way to understand parts of history and geography. Using a new word 5 times a day is a great way to develop the vocabulary.

    The key is to get creative and rely on your knowledge of your students to create effective learning environments. Take time out each week to learn a bit more about their interests so that you can perpetuate effective learning throughout the school year.