August 17, 2022

Disciplining students with disabilities

Many teachers and administrators feel uncomfortable disciplining disabled students. Others believe that it is important for disabled students to follow the same rules that their fellow students follow.

Model respectful behavior toward the student. Your class will look to you for cues about how to interact with the student. Demonstrate by treating him in a kind, sensitive and patient manner, but do not talk down to him. Also, use language that is suitable for his age and places him on an equal level with his peers. For example, in asking a classmate to go with the student to the library, it is more sensitive to say “I’d like the two of you to go” than “Take him with you.”

Find opportunities to praise the student. He may be frustrated by his deficiencies and in need of emotional support. Honestly and sincerely, praise him for these gains in the presence of classmates (or privately if you sense he will be embarrassed by public recognition). Keep in mind that his accomplishments may not take the same form as those of others students. Small steps may represent giant leaps for the child with special needs.

Discipline the student when he knowingly misbehaves. While you may feel sympathetic to the student, he should not be exempt from discipline because of his disability unless his misbehavior is a direct result of his disability. Students with disabilities need to know when their behavior is inappropriate as well as receive reasonable consequences for this behavior. Bear in mind, however, that the ultimate purpose of discipline is to teach, not to punish or humiliate.

Make accommodations for the student to lessen his frustration or difficulties. His behavioral difficulties, which can run the gamut from withdrawal to crying to lashing out at classmates, may result from his frustrations in school related to his special needs. Here are some examples:

Ease up on the amount of writing required of a student with a handwriting problem.

Provide alternatives to reading aloud for the student with a reading disability.

Prepare the autistic child for changes in the school routine.

Give the student with an auditory processing problem extra time to process information presented orally.

Provide short, simple, and clear directions to the student who is a slow learner or cognitively impaired.

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