Distance Learning Strategies for Special Education Students

Muskaan Choudhary
April 30, 2021
7 min read

Honestly, the pandemic has affected the entire world more so negatively than positively. One area that received equal, if not more, heat throughout the globe was education.

With the virus spreading at a godly rate, everything shifted online. From businesses, to classrooms, nothing was spared. The latter coped through online learning, also called distance learning.

Though distance learning is a boon because of numerous reasons, it can also be a bit difficult to navigate for many people. One of these being, students who require special education.

What is special education and why is it important?

Special education is also famously known as SPED or special needs education. It primarily caters to children with special needs, disabilities, or who might need individual attention.

SPED is increasingly gaining importance due to the inclusivity and diversity it provides. Not only does it accommodate every child, but also appreciates their uniqueness and helps them to reach their full potential.

Challenges faced by special needs students during the pandemic

We all faced challenges during this pandemic and found ways to cope with them too. But students with special needs had a whole different set of challenges to overcome.

Lack of physical presence

The biggest challenge faced by special ed teachers as well as students was the lack of physical presence. A huge chunk of special needs students, usually require someone in person to help them with difficulties.

Some of the main areas that special education works on is academics, social-emotional learning (SEL), improving the attention span, among others. Be it online meetings or lectures, don’t we find it hard to pay attention too? So, one can hardly imagine how grave this issue must be for a child with special needs.


Though nothing can replace a teacher’s physical presence and the classroom environment, these are substitutes that have proven to help:

  1. Student-teacher relationships should be prioritized

A research conducted by New York University clearly indicates that social emotional learning programs have led to a positive impact on various aspects of a child’s life. This includes an improvement in behaviour, academics, and so on.

Considering the global condition right now, it is especially important for special needs students to feel emotionally fulfilled in the classroom. There are many ways to build a healthy relationship between a student and a teacher. For example, taking an interest in students’ lives, getting to know them better, paying individual attention, and keeping in constant touch with their parents.

  1. Communicating with parents

A student’s family and parents can provide you with insights like no other. They know the child, what motivates them, what puts them down, and other things about their life.

Keeping an open line of communication with them can not only help you get to know the student better, but also keep the parents informed about their class schedule. It will keep you updated on what is going on inside the child’s mind and if they are facing any issues regarding the class that you might be unaware of.

  1. IEP meetings and progress reports

Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a specialized education plan as per the student’s requirements. It aims to work on the strengths to successfully help them with their weaknesses as per their individual needs, uniqueness, and talents.

By deciding on an IEP at the beginning of the term, the teacher as well as the parent can be confident with whatever curriculum is decided upon. This also helps the student have a stress-free environment by providing a continuous study plan.

Maintaining a progress report can positively reinforce the student and give them a push in the right direction, all the while appreciating their hard work and efforts.  

Unavailability of TLM and technological issues  

Another major concern that came up was the lack of or unavailability of teaching learning materials (TLM). Special educators rely on these materials to provide their students with visual or audio aid. Thus, students with hearing or visual impairments benefit the most from these materials.

However, as amazing as today’s technology is, numerous students reported issues with things like subtitles or even sign language facilitators. Many also faced problems with understanding the technology, navigating softwares, or some simply did not have access to high-speed internet.


Practically speaking, we cannot directly solve our students’ internet issues. Nevertheless, there is still a way around it.

  1. Small, helpful videos for later reference

Facing difficulty while trying to look for teaching learning materials? Make your own! Try and get creative with what can be accessed and you can always record your own videos. Canva is a resource that can help you with video editing. You can also find templates on there for various other things!

These can be divided into smaller clips for the students to access whenever. You can also give them a chance to write back to you about the video, submit a drawing or another video recording as a response. This personalizes the experience further and connects you to the child on a deeper level. Flipgrid and Seesaw are two such apps that could assist you with this. 

They both allow students to send responses via video recordings. Here Flipgrid is based on the simple concept that one can start a discussion within a group by posting a question. On the other hand, Seesaw allows students to use tools to make collages, videos, draw and record, and much much more!

  1. Record your lessons

Maybe they don’t always have a connection, but they do in breaks. Simply record your lectures. This is something that teachers can do during their regular classes too! All you have to do is hit the record button and later send the clip or upload it on a common platform for all students to access.

Since the clips would ideally be accessible whenever, they can be accessed by students on their schedule. Zoom is an amazing resource for this. To make your teaching experience even better, here are some tips for teaching online with zoom.

Social interactions and routine

Several disabilities require their educators to provide the students with a routine for the day. This routine can be followed when in-person schools are in session. However, when the child is at home throughout the day, structure and routine goes out the window.

Social interaction is also a major part of special education. The virus obviously made it impossible for special needs students to do so.


A well-known fact today is that humans need social and emotional support to function. And by direct relation, the more support we receive, the higher our functionality. This especially holds true for students with special needs. This can be achieved by:

  1. Team building activities and tasks

Team building activities and collaborative work in a virtual classroom will not only help the students get to know each other better, but also improve their teamwork skills. As a teacher, you can also assign individual tasks to their students with specific instructions.

ClassDojo Groups has especially been introduced for this purpose. It promotes teamwork among its members by allowing the educator to make smaller groups within the classroom. ClassDojo itself, allows students to add pictures or videos and create a portfolio and also facilitates positive reinforcements by rewarding them.

To summarize..

All in all, distance learning itself poses many concerns. Motivation, attention span, organization, and so on. Unfortunately, students with special needs already find it difficult to tread these waters. On the plus side, with the proper resources and help, these kids won’t feel left out for too long!

Here we have listed some of the most helpful apps and resources. These would not only make the whole process easier but also help children with special needs experience a stress-free distance learning experience.

  1. Audiobooks 🎧

Audiobooks are great tools for children who are working on their reading skills. Some resources that can assist students with disabilities are:

  1. Flipgrid 💬

Flipgrid is used by educators, students, and families alike. It is based on the simple concept that one can start a discussion within a group by posting a question.

  1. ClassDojo ⭐

This app works on Android, iOS, or any other computer. It is free for teachers and can be used for almost every student activity imagined.

  1. Word prediction technology 🖊️

Like the name suggests, word prediction technology predicts words as we are typing them. These are generally available as in-built features in many devices but today, the market provides many more refined versions too.

  1. Classcard 📅.

Last but definitely not the least, Classcard. It is a systematic way to manage classrooms. Heavily functional in multiple aspects like scheduling classes, sharing resources, and even tracking progress, it is also extremely easy to navigate. Learners can also receive personalized feedback from their mentors.

Children with special needs also have unique abilities. It is our job to nurture them and realize their potential. Distance learning can be hard, agreed. But it doesn’t have to be. 
Muskaan Choudhary

Up next