Teaching Students with Moderate & Severe Disabilities

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  • 0:04 FAPE
  • 0:42 Individually Designed…
  • 2:29 Least Restrictive Environment
  • 4:52 Team-Based Approach
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

As the number of students with moderate and severe disabilities in our schools increases, educators must be prepared to meet their needs. Learn about three areas to consider when programming for students with moderate and severe disabilities.


All students deserve an education, and according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), individuals with disabilities are guaranteed a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). For a student with moderate to severe disabilities who might be functioning several grade levels behind their peers, what does this look like? How can you include a student who communicates with two-word phrases with peers who are learning to write essays? How does a student with severe physical and intellectual impairments participate in an age-appropriate curriculum? These considerations are crucial for teachers of students with moderate and severe disabilities.

Individually Designed Instruction

As your school system designs programming for students with significant disabilities, there are several important concepts to address.

Students with moderate to severe disabilities have significant needs that impact their performance of school tasks, needs that are very different from other children of the same age. The first step is to evaluate their performance in the areas of cognition, communication, motor ability, adaptive behavior, and social and emotional skills. Identify specific challenges in these areas that prevent students from making progress in the general curriculum. Assign goals to target those challenges, and make a plan to address those goals.

IDEA requires that all students have access to a general education curriculum appropriate to their age and grade. This can seem difficult when a student is functioning intellectually several years behind others of the same age.

There are two approaches that can be used to address grade-level curriculum.

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