By now, you know that all students are unique and have their own learning preferences and strengths. You can adapt your teaching strategies to meet these needs, including the needs of students with learning disabilities.

It’s vital for all instructors to become familiar with the types of learning disabilities in order to help facilitate a positive learning experience. Try these tips for expanding your teaching methods to be inclusive of all learning types.

Approach each student as an individual

Students with learning disabilities are the largest group of students with disabilities. Some of the many disabilities include difficulty in writing or reading, difficulty in remembering, ADHD, autism, developmental delays, speech or language impairment, limited cognitive functioning, emotional disorders, or physical impairment. Teachers should not generalize all students with disabilities into one behavioral and learning group, but approach each student to his or her own personal characteristics. According to Donald C. Orlich et al., in the book Teaching Strategies: A Guide to Effective Instruction, Tenth Edition: “As you get to know students with disabilities and understand their learning preferences and achievement levels, you will find that they reflect a similar range of diversity as their nondisabled peers” (Orlich, 51).

Strategies for instructors

In “Successful Strategies for Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities,” the Learning Disabilities Association of America suggested that teachers provide learning strategy instruction; use a multisensory approach to teaching; focus on individual learning, achievement, and progress; and provide teacher-mediated instruction at first, then allow the student to acquire skills and work toward student mediated instruction. Other suggestions:

  • break learning into small steps
  • supply quality feedback
  • provide independent and intensive practice
  • engage students in process type questions, such as “How is the strategy working?”

Use proven teaching strategies

Teachers should utilize research-based teaching strategies that show verified successful results for other students with the same learning disability. Proven teaching strategies assess how students absorb what they are learning, and how the teacher can most effectively impart information. Teaching methods should not make the student feel uncomfortable or embarrassed and or feel different from their peers. Teachers should also be cognizant of the student’s emotional well-being and educational progress.

According to Ginny Osewalt in “Teaching Strategies: What Works Best” at Understood.org, teaching guidelines for students with disabilities include:

  • Assuring that student understands the skills learned in the previous lesson before moving on to the next.
  • Asking many questions and creating a discussion with the student, asking them to explain how they derived at their answers, and letting the student think out loud to work out the answer.
  • Providing models, examples, and problems that have a solution the student can discover.
  • Allowing for lots of practice and frequent reviews to improve long-term memory.

Instructors can also:

  • Discuss the curriculum of the course with the student.
  • Meet with the student to understand limitations and accommodations, and to discern if the student is able to meet the course objectives.
  • Grant special consideration to disabled students, such as extensions or seating preferences.
  • Meet several times during the course to discuss progress or any problems that arise.
  • Not assume the student will slow down the rest of the class.
  • Not single out the student during class for special attention which may embarrass them.

Reference: Orlich, Donald C. 2013. Teaching Strategies: A Guide to Effective Instruction, 10th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

How have you approached teaching students with learning disabilities?