5 Tips for Success With Students Who Have Intellectual Disabilities

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Helping All Students

When it comes to students with disabilities and discovering the best way to teach an affected child, the severity of the disability, the quality of intervention, and individual personality traits all come into play. I am going to provide a list of ideas that have helped me in the classroom. Implementing these guidelines was instrumental in the development of these students. Every child takes baby steps when learning something new. For many children with a disability even the smallest baby step is a huge victory.

Five Tips for Success

1. Teach Baby Steps. Children with intellectual disabilities are certainly not babies. This term is intended to encourage teachers to break down their lessons into simple, easier-to-manage steps. This will keep frustration levels down and enable learning to take place. Wait until the student masters the baby step before moving onto the next one.

2. Concrete Learning Experiences. Introduce new ideas in a physical, hands-on approach. Use manipulatives when teaching math. Take field trips to the grocery store or post office to give students a meaningful experience. When students are able to make real connections to the world around them, or physically explore a concept, the knowledge will stick with them.

3. Immediate and Positive Feedback. Everyone appreciates a pat on the back. Positive feedback will encourage the student to keep on trying. If a student masters a concept or meets a goal it is important to reward or applaud the student immediately. Having a pizza party at the end of the month for a job well done three weeks earlier is not going to make a connection with the student.

4. Sing a Song. I have found that music is a wonderful motivator among all children and particularly ones with intellectual disabilities. Keep in mind that each child is different but I have yet to find a student who was not positively influenced by music incorporated into lessons. Making a simple, catchy song to go along with a concept is a fun way to engage the student and help them remember information.

5. Patience. The most important tip I can give is to have patience. Students with certain disabilities can be unpredictable in what they can learn and what might set off a certain behavior. What might appear to be a temper tantrum is often the student’s way of telling you, “This is too hard. I am frustrated,” or “I am tired. I need a break.” Take the time to learn the individual child’s needs and who they are. If you are feeling overwhelmed and cannot relate to the student it is OK to stop the lesson and resume when both student and teacher can handle the lesson pace. It may take a while for students to make some progress, but if you are patient it will be priceless when they do.

Every Child Can Learn

Every child can learn. Students learn on their own time table and through different mediums. Find out what works for the children in your class and find creative ways to bring those ideas into your lessons. It is critical to set students up for success. Be positive and patient when they fail and be their number-one fan when they succeed.


  • Classroom experience by the author.