Teaching Students with Multiple Disabilities

Instructor: Abigail Cook
A student with a disability has barriers to learning. Now imagine a student with multiple disabilities and how their unique problems put them at even more of a disadvantage. Let's look at some ideas for teaching students with multiple disabilities.

Multiple Disabilities

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a student may be classified as having multiple disabilities when they have at least two disabilities that are both severe enough to cause significant educational challenges. Possible combinations of disabilities include, for example, intellectual disabilities and blindness or intellectual disability and orthopedic impairments.

Students who experience multiple disabilities are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to learning in the classroom. Although each student is unique, there are some common symptoms of multiple disabilities. Some of the challenges students with multiple disabilities face include:

  • Mobility issues like walking, standing, or bending
  • Communication
  • Working
  • Thinking and focusing

In order for students with multiple disabilities to progress and reach their potential, teachers need to get creative in the strategies and accommodations they implement. Let's look at Jason, a student with multiple disabilities, and how his teachers helped him be more successful in the classroom.

Jason is a seventh grade student with cerebral palsy and blindness. His disabilities significantly affect his ability to pay attention in class, maneuver around the school, see his assignments and reading material, and communicate with his teachers and peers. After many observations and research, Jason's teachers have put a variety of strategies and accommodations in place that have helped improve his performance at school. We will look at some of these ideas in three separate sections: mobility, vision, and learning.

Mobility

Although Jason can walk, his low muscle tone causes him to have poor balance. It takes him longer to walk from class to class, and he often loses his balance when walking with a crowd. Jason also becomes uncomfortable sitting in certain positions for a long period of time and struggles to participate in his P.E. class. His teachers try the following:

  • Jason leaves each class two minutes early to avoid the crowded halls. This gives him time to get from one room to the next without being run over by other students who aren't paying attention.
  • Jason has also learned to walk on the right side of the hallway against the wall. This allows him to stay out of the middle of the crowd and gives him something to keep him upright when he loses his balance.
  • Jason uses a padded chair and adjustable table in his classes. This allows him to sit for longer periods of time without getting too stiff or sore.
  • Jason also qualifies for physical therapy services. Once a week, he works with a therapist on activities that strengthen his muscles, and he practices balance and coordination.

Vision

Jason has a severe vision problem, but with proper accommodations, he can see well enough to move around the school, read and write, and participate in class activities. His teachers have taught him to use assistive technology devices as accommodations.

  • Magnifying glass: Jason has a high powered, hand-held magnifier that can enlarge print in text books or on worksheets. The vision specialist is in charge of conducting frequent tests to make sure the magnification is set to the right power.
  • Enlarged worksheets and assignments: Whenever possible, Jason's teachers enlarge his classroom assignments. This allows him to access the same curriculum as his peers.
  • Raised surface: Jason's teachers can tell when he's having a hard time seeing his papers because he bends over his desk and brings the paper within inches of his face. To help prevent this, his teachers have extra large binders that can sit on his desk and hold the papers closer to his eyes.

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