Supporting Life Transitions in Special Education: Strategies & Techniques

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

If you are a special education teacher, you probably wonder about what you can do to support your students and their well-being through life transitions. This lesson discusses strategies for supporting life transitions in special education.

Understanding Life Transitions

Kimberly is a special education teacher in a self-contained middle school setting, one where her students learn and grow separately from typically-developing peers. Though Kimberly thinks a lot about her students' cognitive growth, her curriculum, and instruction, lately she has been noticing some specific emotional issues that tend to arise in her classroom.

Many of these emotions have to do with the life transitions, or major changes that can occur over the course of a student's life. This might include family changes like separations and death, or school changes like a change in educational program, graduation from one school, or an increase in expectations. Life transitions can also include personal growth and development; puberty, for instance, can profoundly impact a student's life.

Kimberly knows that transitions are complicated for all people, and students with special needs in particular tend to thrive on routine and struggle with change. She starts to think more about what she can do as a special educator to make sure students' needs are met through transitions.

Promoting Care for Self and Others

First, Kimberly realizes that it is important to explicitly teach self-care strategies to her students. In other words, she needs to teach them what they can do to take care of themselves emotionally in the face of a transition. Kimberly knows that many students with special needs benefit from explicit, direct instruction as well as modeling and exploration. She tells her students directly that when they are in transitional times, they need to find ways to care for themselves. Some strategies she recommends and teaches include:

  • yoga, attention to breathing, and basic guided meditation
  • talking to friends or family members about emotions
  • participating in recreational activities that bring them joy

Kimberly also explains to her students that they should care for others during transitional times. This includes:

  • spending time with friends and peers who might be in need
  • practicing active listening skills in times of stress
  • getting help from an adult if a peer's needs are more than they can handle
  • showing basic kindness and consideration to others throughout transitions

Considering Physical Health and Fitness

Kimberly also thinks about the importance of her students' physical health and fitness during transition times. She gives her students direct lessons about proper nutrition and the importance of getting a good night's sleep. Many students with special needs are picky eaters or have trouble sleeping, so Kimberly emphasizes the significance of eating a balanced diet and maintaining routines around sleep.

Kimberly also plays sports with her students to show them how they can get exercise in spite of any physical limitations they might have. She helps them make meal plans, grocery lists, and exercise schedules that they can use with increasing independence as they grow older and more responsible for their own well-being. She also, of course, involves families in thinking about the importance of their children's physical health and fitness.

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