Birth defects can cause a variety of learning disabilities, but educators are increasingly prepared for their students’ unique needs.

Every year in the U.S., nearly 120,000 babies are born with a congenital anomaly (sometimes referred to as a “birth defect”). These anomalies may be discovered before birth, at birth, and during the first year of life.* They may be physical, developmental, or a combination of both, as in babies born with Down Syndrome.

Strategies for Teaching Children With Learning Disabilities

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), approximately 12.9% of students in K–12 classes in 2012 had physical and/or developmental disabilities.† In order to provide a better education for students with learning disabilities, educators can use the following strategies to make the classroom a more effective learning environment:

  • Establish a Routine—Many students with learning disabilities tend to find comfort in stable routines, both in school and at home. Unexpected changes in routine can be upsetting, so outline a daily schedule and follow it carefully.
  • Mark Physical Boundaries—Use tape, rugs, or barriers such as furniture to mark separate learning areas in your classroom. This will help students understand which area they need to be in for each educational activity. If you tend to use one multipurpose area, write the activity on a sign that changes each time the activity shifts. This simple aid helps students with learning disabilities know what to expect so they can more easily settle into the activity.
  • Make Directions Clear—In addition to stating instructions out loud, use hand gestures, pictures, objects, and visual presentations to fully communicate what is going to happen. Always make sure you have your students’ attention prior to instruction, and guide them through the activity until they grasp the concept.
  • Give Children Control—Giving students with learning disabilities (especially younger children) a bit of control in the classroom can enhance their willingness to participate in their education. Allowing them to choose a book to read, decide which assignment to start first, or choose a favorite place to study can boost their self-esteem and help them feel more comfortable with guidance in general.

Strategies for Teaching Children With Physical Disabilities

When teaching children with physical disabilities rather than specific learning challenges, you will encounter children who can’t maneuver around the classroom or school in the same way other students can. These students may use wheelchairs or have disabilities that limit motor functions. Experienced educators recommend these guidelines for effective teaching:

  • Know Your Students—First and foremost, make sure you understand the limitations and abilities of each student. This allows you to foresee possible obstacles and avoid expecting students to perform tasks beyond their abilities, which can negatively impact their self-esteem and ability to receive an effective education.
  • Encourage Understanding—Insist that the classroom environment foster respect and understanding (a good educational practice in general). If a student calls attention to another’s physical struggles, redirect the conversation and use it as an opportunity point out that everyone has challenges, whether visible or not, and everyone deserves kindness and support.
  • Explain Accessibility—Make all of your students part of the conversation about accessibility features in and outside of the classroom. For example, discuss the existence and respectful use of wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, automatic doors, and elevators.
  • Ensure Visibility—Always make sure your students can see you and the whiteboard/chalkboard at all times.
  • Stay Aware—Some students might not have the upper body strength or proper motor function to raise their hands for questions and answers. Maintaining eye contact with students with disabilities will help ensure they are not left out of a class discussion.

Preparing for a Career in Special Education

Thanks to a variety of online education programs, educators can further develop their knowledge and expertise in special education while balancing their existing professional and personal commitments. The following types of education degrees can put you on a path toward a fulfilling career as an educator of children with special needs:

Explore Walden University's online education degree programs. Get the support you need to realize your education and career goals. Earn your degree in a convenient online format that fits your busy life.


*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Facts About Birth Defects, on the Internet at www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/facts.html.

†National Center for Educational Statistics, Fast Facts: Students with Disabilities, on the Internet at http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=64.

Walden offers both state-approved educator licensure programs as well as programs and courses that do not lead to licensure or endorsements. Prospective students must review their state licensure requirements prior to enrolling. For more information, please refer to www.WaldenU.edu/educlicensure.

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