Your kids have special abilities and needs, and as a special needs teacher, your classroom needs are very specific, too. Which apps or software can create a breakthrough for an autistic student? There’s a webinar for that—Learning with APPtitude: Top 10 Apps to Support Students with Disabilities. How can you arrange your classroom to allow for the best learning and social interaction? Author Cindy Golden has great room-design solutions (read more in the interview below). And where can you go to hobnob, in person or online, with other special ed teachers? We have a few ideas about that, too.

Read on, and don’t hesitate to give us feedback on our Facebook page.

Software & Apps

The Social Express
Graphically fun, these animated software lessons help kids with communication disorders learn to navigate social situations and stay focused. The program has won awards from SIIA and USA Today (Best iPad App for Special Needs Kids). $0.99–$29.99.

Super Duper HearBuilder Phonological Awareness
Zero in on phonological difficulties for grades K–5. The program allows you to track individual students’ progress. Other programs in the series include Auditory Memory and Following Directions. $149.95.

Create personalized stories that demonstrate visual cues—great for kids who need help navigating social situations. $13.99.

Dragon Dictation
Do you have students with mobility issues who can’t easily use a keyboard? Leslie Schecht, a district tech director in New York City, recommends this easy-to-use voice-recognition app. Free.

Websites & DVDs

Power Up!
Tech-savvy but stumped about which apps to get? Common Sense Media comes to the rescue with a well-organized, curated guide to the best apps for kids with autism, ADHD, and other learning disabilities. Browse by level (beginner, intermediate, advanced) and category (reading, social interaction, motor skills) and print the free, downloadable guide.

The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia
Through affecting stories and commentary, this 2012 Sundance selection looks at the challenges faced by people with dyslexia, including a competitive fifth-grade skier, a Columbia grad student, and superachievers like David Boies. A classroom edition comes with discussion guides.

Great Reads

Common Core for the Not-So-Common Learner:
English Language Arts Strategies, Grades K–5

by Maria G. Dove and Andrea Honigsfeld. $29.95.
The new standards affect every classroom, and this handy guide will help smooth the way for teaching English language arts to your special needs students.

A Survival Guide for New Special Educators
by Bonnie S. Billingsley et al. $29.95.
This book covers seemingly everything a new teacher might have questions about: finding the right job match, how to develop quality IEPs, techniques for behavior management, and great lesson planning.

The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules
by Jennifer Cook O’Toole. $19.95.
The author of last year’s Asperkids: An Insider’s Guide to Loving, Understanding, and Teaching Children With Asperger Syndrome is back with this gem of a book that will help you understand this subgroup of kids. Your tweens and teens will want to borrow it.

Professional Organizations

Council for Exceptional Children
Plan ahead to join your colleagues next April in the City of Brotherly Love (Philly) for the national conference. In the meantime, check out job listings, online courses, webinars, and more on the organization’s website.

National Association of Special Education Teachers
Another great source for online PD courses (you can take a single course or earn various certificates), plus a reference library, publications, job postings, networking opportunities, and much more.

Q&A with Cindy Golden

Author, The Special Educator’s Toolkit: Everything You Need to Organize, Manage, & Monitor Your Classroom.

Q | What’s different about organizing a special needs classroom?
A | It’s important to level the playing field so that special needs kids can also be successful. Structure an environment where all students are able to access and navigate the space independently.

Q | How does technology fit in?
A | For students on the autism spectrum who have significant language impairments, technology promotes independence. Many applications available on today’s smaller, lighter tablets can be used for communication by nonverbal students, which in turn encourages self-sufficiency.

Q | How important are color, texture, and lighting?
A | One of the easiest ways to organize an environment is to color-code. It’s a great way to manage the mounds of paperwork, and it simplifies the classroom in a way that students with special needs can understand. Have students with tactile defensiveness interact with different textures to desensitize them. And research suggests overhead fluorescent lighting increases distractibility in some children, so take this into account for classroom design.

Q | When things seem to spin out of control, how does a teacher reset?
A | It’s important to stop, if only for a little while. Take a few minutes to make a list of the top three areas of need. Is it the paperwork, the clutter, student behavior? Determine what the need is, then address it one step at a time. Once a system is in place, the world will be back on course.


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Image: Rebekah Tosh