Six Areas of Focus for Special Education at the High School Level

Expressive Communication

The first of the six focus areas that we will look at is expressive communication. This is the ability to communicate a thought, feeling or idea to another person. Examples are saying hello or goodbye, making a request or refusing an activity. This is a critical area for many of our young people in special education settings, as it is really the key to participating in an active and full manner in all aspects of daily living. The ability to communicate with others brings additional skills such as:

  1. making choices about food or drink (‘I don’t LIKE banana – I would like an apple please)
  2. opting in or out of a class activity (‘I don’t feel well – I want to have a rest instead’)
  3. directing how a class activity will happen (choosing paint colors in art, making a decision about listening to a story on a CD or with the teacher reading aloud)

Receptive Communication

The flip side of expressive communication is receptive communication. This is where a young person receives the communication message and is able to take action upon it. Think about all those times as a teacher when you make a request, give an instruction or make a comment. You are expecting that the young person on the receiving end is taking in what you are saying (or signing, if you are using sign to communicate), and that they are able to interpret and use the information.

You can practice receptive communication through tasks such as:

  • playing a game where students find various items
  • playing tag or Scarecrow Tiggie
  • playing ‘start’ and ‘stop’ games
  • cooking in the classroom and asking students to follow verbal directions


Literacy is another of the six areas of focus for special education, and it is an area where significant resourcing has been provided in many countries around the world. We know that when we help people in many situations become literate, they gain far greater power over their life choices and ability to control their own destinies than if they were illiterate.

Even in mainstream settings at the high school level, there are often many useful services for students with disabilities that relate to literacy. Some schools have additional tutoring or special needs teaching that can support literacy development. Some teachers attend in-services about literacy training or join an association such as the Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers. (

Literacy can be built through:

  • making reading and story listening choices
  • observing others reading
  • sharing in a group book reading activity
  • visiting a library in the community


Numeracy finds its way into most special education settings, often with a life skills focus on math, and in the form of tasks such as:

  • reading a calendar
  • planning daily activities
  • looking at a timetable
  • reading and measuring ingredients for a cooking task
  • deciding whether to eat half a sandwich or the whole sandwich
  • completing simple math tasks which have a daily living focus

Numeracy extends readily into the community area of services for students with disabilities, as these activities lend themselves readily to being used in shopping centers, supermarkets, restaurants and movie cinemas.

Information & Communication Technology

Information and communication technology (ICT) is a vital area in the modern special education curriculum. ICT gives students the ability to use their skills in ways that have never been possible in the past; using spell checkers to correct errors, making music with adaptive technology, using a voice recognition program to enter text into a Word document, or using a screen reading program to read text aloud.

ICT has truly opened doors at school and at the tertiary level in ways that were unheard of even a few short years ago. Most services for students with disabilities in an educational setting now involve some form of ICT, as it allows students to participate more fully and more independently.

Daily Living Skills

Daily living skills includes:

Most services for students with disabilities will incorporate daily living skills into their programming at some point, and many services are designed to help maintain independence in these areas. Indeed, many areas of legislation such as IDEA aim to maximize independence in daily living for special needs students.

Adapting to Student Needs

Your own teaching situation and your students unique needs may alter these six areas of focus, however, the basic skills areas listed above should give you an insight into some of the key areas to include within your special education program for the students with disabilities you are working with in a high school setting.