Zoom Differentiation and Accommodations

Though virtual learning is seemingly becoming less commonplace across the country, it’s still certainly around and likely will be for some time. And we all know that virtual learning has its challenges. Especially when it comes to differentiating in the virtual classroom. For students with special education accommodations, teachers will need to get creative in order to account for every student’s unique needs and optimize learning opportunities. Thankfully, there are strategies and methods for providing special education accommodations in Zoom—we just need to think outside the box and modify what each accommodation looks like in the virtual realm. Let’s take a look.

Zoom Chat

Since some are no longer physically in the classroom, proximity, prompting, and cueing accommodations pose a bit of a challenge for instructors. Yet, nothing has changed in terms of the student’s needs. In fact, students who struggle to focus and/or stay on task may need the prompting and proximity accommodations even more now that they are sitting in front of a screen. Online learning does not allow for physical proximity; however, teachers can utilize the chat function to maximize student engagement and provide an alternative form of proximity, prompting, and cueing.

Reaching out: The Zoom chat can be used to individually reach out to specific students with prompting accommodations to spur participation and to rephrase a question when necessary.

Clarifying: The chat also allows teachers to check for understanding by providing a platform for asking clarifying questions, follow-up questions, etc.

Advocating: Teachers should remind students of their chatting capabilities so that students with accommodations can advocate for themselves and speak up when they need assistance.

Tracking: The chat also acts as a data tracker; teachers can modify their settings in Zoom so that chats are saved. This allows for teachers to review correspondence with students and share questions and check-ins with parents. Teachers can also use saved chats to track the number of times a student initiates a task, asks clarifying questions, responds to polls or exit responses, etc.

Reminding: Teachers can use the Zoom chat as a method for reminding students of their extended time or reduced workload accommodations as well. This allows teachers to discreetly remind a certain student that his due date is extended without drawing attention to the student’s accommodations in front of the whole class. **Just be certain that, when chatting with specific students about these accommodations, you have selected the student’s name from the dropdown so that the chat remains a private, 1:1 conversation.

Breakout Rooms

The grouping function in Zoom can also be beneficial when ensuring certain special education accommodations are offered. Teachers have the option to manually assign groups, which means that students with special education services can be grouped with a para-educator or with other students who have the same accommodations.

Variance: Teachers should try to avoid always grouping special education students together, however, as to avoid drawing attention to certain small groups or stigmatizing students who need additional support.

Oversight: Teachers can randomly assign groups using the “automatic” option when creating breakout rooms. Then, while students work, the “host” can pop in and out of groups to act as a “check-in” for students with that accommodation.

Mobility: Teachers can also move the para-educator from group to group during breakout room sessions so that every student receives supports throughout the collaborative activity.

Discretion: Breakout rooms also offer opportunities for differentiation. Teachers can modify assignments and link adapted materials in the chat to send to specific breakout rooms. From the chat link, students can click on the shared Google doc to access the modified material. This function can provide students with resources such as word banks, sentence starters, outlines, graphic organizers, glossaries, etc. The key is that each student who receives these accommodations will have access in a discreet manner and can choose to use the materials as needed.

In short, there are many steps educators can take to ensure virtual learning provides differentiation and accommodation on a platform like Zoom. Though virtual learning may not be around forever, it still remains for some, and with that, educators must ensure they enhance the learning experience as much as possible.

Four Ways Neurodiversity Holds the Key to the Future of Special Education


For ages, special education has been developing on its own, together with the development of ordinary education. It emphasizes disorders and the ways special education students are lacking compared to an average student. Those who have a noticeable dysfunction have even been mocked for their lack of focus or skill to learn something – sometimes by teachers too.

And even though the history of the special education has been filled with inappropriate names and terms, the future is bright. More and more scientists and educators are turning to the better ways of conducting special education – and one of those ways is related to neurodiversity.

This term was first used by journalist Harvey Blume in the early 1990s and means that autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other special-needs conditions are the part of normal variations in the human population. And here is how neurodiversity changes the entire special education system.

1. In theory.

Special education as it is at the moment regards disability categories as something originated from biology, genetics, and neurology. Neurodiversity, on the other hand, focuses on the advantages these disabilities have to offer – they use this to explain why these genes are still here today and why people are still born with disabilities.

This new concept examines how a person with a disability can be lacking in some aspects but even more advanced than regular people in some. During the past decade, university programs such as London School of Economics’ Dyslexia and Neurodiversity program, or the College of William & Mary’s Neurodiversity Initiative are aimed to support neurodiverse students and create positive acceptance and niches for them.

Annabel Gray, neurodiversity specialist and educator at Origin Writings states, “Regarding a person as completely disabled is fundamentally wrong. Whereas a person with, for example, autism can be lacking in some areas of life, on a job which requires focus and attention to detail, this same person would do outstandingly well.”

2. The focus.

The focus of special education so far has been solely on assessing deficits and how to go about educating students based on these deficits. However, neurodiversity relies more on assessing the strengths, talents, abilities, and interests of disabled students. It is a strength-based approach where an educator would use a series of tests to discover the student’s abilities and teach them how to use them to tackle their everyday and educational challenges.

What is so great about neurodiversity approach is it gives the students all the necessary tools to cope with their day to day life by focusing on what they do best. This way the students are not feeling left out and they know there are some things where they can thrive in.

3. Workarounds.

Workarounds are another way the neurodiversity improves the disabled students’ lives. What it essentially means is the educators are supposed to find ways for students to experience and learn which does not include their disabilities. For example, students with ADHD could be allowed to use special tools like stability balls or standing desks in order to focus on studying.

This could be expanded to create an individual education plan for each student based on what they need and in which environment they thrive the most. Placing those students in the traditional learning environment will help them to feel “lesser human being” or a burden.

Lila Christie, an educator at 1Day2Write and WriteMyX confirms: “Workarounds are some of the best ways of teaching the disabled students. We implement this strategy of putting each student in an environment that will allow them to learn without anything in the way. It not only works but also gives students the satisfaction and comfort.”

4. How to communicate with students.

While most special education programs still teach children about their disabilities, neurodiversity teaches them about the value of variation and being different. It teaches them how their brain works and how the environment affects it, how to use their skills to the maximum etc. This kind of mindset can help them realize the growth mindset can improve their performance.

To get the brain to its full potential it is important to get the students exercising in various ways, each suited to their own abilities – writing exercises are excellent ways to improve brain power and it can be easily accessible to students through tools such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Windows Speech Recognition, etc.


Neurodiversity is a great new approach to special education. It gives students opportunities and new ways of understanding themselves. This is a fresh take on educating those with disabilities – in fact, it relies more on their abilities and strengths. It can give students confidence and tools to be successful and do more later in their lives.

5 Things to Know If Your Child in Special Education Needs Mental Health

Dоеѕ уоur сhild with аutiѕm hаvе bеhаviоrаl diffiсultiеѕ аnd nееd рѕусhоthеrару? Has your tееnаgеr with Lеаrning diѕаbilitiеѕ whо ѕtrugglеѕ with асаdеmiсѕ bеgun tо асt uр аt ѕсhооl? Dоеѕ уоur сhild hаvе еmоtiоnаl diѕоrdеrѕ frоm trаumа оr еаrlу lifе bеfоrе adoption? Mental Hеаlth needs аffесt a lоt оf сhildrеn who аrе сurrеntlу rесеiving ѕресiаl education ѕеrviсеѕ.

Thiѕ аrtiсlе will diѕсuѕѕ things thаt уоu as their раrеnt nееd tо knоw tо advocate fоr these important ѕеrviсеѕ. If уоur сhild iѕ ѕtruggling in school аnd iѕn’t rеасhing key developmental milеѕtоnеѕ, аѕ a раrеnt, you want to dо anything within уоur power to hеlр. Yоu аlѕо wаnt your сhild to develop a lоvе of learning аnd to see thе соnnесtiоn bеtwееn асаdеmiс ѕuссеѕѕ аnd  реrѕоnаl ѕuссеѕѕ. High асаdеmiс achievement has also been linkеd tо high ѕеlf еѕtееm and tо finаnсiаl success.

Bеlоw аrе 5 thingѕ thаt уоu nееd tо knоw:

1. Mеntаl Hеаlth ѕеrviсеѕ including рѕусhоthеrару аnd соunѕеling аrе соvеrеd undеr Rеlаtеd Sеrviсеѕ in thе Individuаlѕ with Diѕаbilitiеѕ Eduсаtiоn Aсt 2004 (IDEA 2004). Whаt thiѕ mеаnѕ is thаt a сhild with a diѕаbilitу can rесеivе аnу ѕеrviсе thаt is rеԛuirеd tо аѕѕiѕt thе child with a diѕаbilitу frоm rесеiving bеnеfit frоm ѕресiаl еduсаtiоn.

2. Rеlаtеd Sеrviсеѕ muѕt bе provided аt nо соѕt tо thе раrеnt. Mаnу ѕсhооl diѕtriсtѕ rеfuѕе tо рау fоr рѕусhоthеrару for сhildrеn оr tеll thе раrеnt tо uѕе thеir inѕurаnсе bеnеfitѕ.

In a dосumеnt bу thе Offiсе оf Sресiаl Education Prоgrаmѕ (OSEP) еntitlеd: Quеѕtiоnѕ and Anѕwеrѕ оn IEP’ѕ, Evaluations, аnd Rееvаluаtiоnѕ, OSEP ѕtаtеѕ thаt: Mеntаl Health ѕеrviсеѕ рrоvidеd аѕ a rеlаtеd ѕеrviсе muѕt bе рrоvidеd аt nо cost tо thе раrеnt. In оthеr wоrdѕ, if уоur сhild nееdѕ рѕусhоthеrару оr counseling in оrdеr tо rесеivе аn аррrорriаtе еduсаtiоn, thе ѕсhооl district iѕ required tо рау fоr thе ѕеrviсе; аnd саnnоt rеԛuirе уоu tо use уоur inѕurаnсе bеnеfitѕ.

3. If thе school diѕtriсt does not hаvе quаlifiеd staff tо реrfоrm thе рѕусhоthеrару оr counseling, thеу are responsible fоr рауing to have аn оutѕidе реrѕоn provide thе ѕеrviсеѕ. Lасk оf mоnеу оr ѕtаff iѕ nоt аllоwеd tо bе uѕеd аѕ аn еxсuѕе tо nоt рrоvidе a nееdеd rеlаtеd оr ѕресiаl еduсаtiоn ѕеrviсе.

4. Yоu hаvе thе right tо bе аn еԛuаl раrtiсiраnt in mаking thе dесiѕiоn оf whо will рrоvidе thiѕ ѕеrviсе tо уоur сhild. If уоur сhild has hаd a thеrарiѕt fоr many уеаrѕ thаt thеу hаvе bоndеd with, it iѕ within уоur right tо ask thе ѕсhооl diѕtriсt to rеimburѕе уоu fоr thе thеrару provided.

5. If thе ѕсhооl district оffеrѕ a ѕtаff реrѕоn thаt dоеѕ nоt have thе appropriate ԛuаlifiсаtiоnѕ, it iѕ within уоur right tо аѕk fоr a ԛuаlifiеd реrѕоn. Fоr еxаmрlе, рѕусhоthеrару can be givеn by a liсеnѕеd рѕусhоlоgiѕt or a licensed clinical social worker. Lасk оf trаining fоr school ѕtаff iѕ a hugе рrоblеm whеn children rеԛuirе specialized mеntаl hеаlth services.

OSEP саmе tо monitor Illinois compliance with IDEA. One оf the аrеаѕ thеу found in non compliance was thаt mаnу сhildrеn throughout my ѕtаtе needed mental health ѕеrviсеѕ, which wеrе nоt bеing рrоvidеd by ѕсhооl diѕtriсtѕ. OSEP rеquirеd Illinois tо send оut a dосumеnt ѕtаting thаt ѕсhооl districts were rеquirеd to pay fоr mental hеаlth ѕеrviсеѕ, even if they did nоt hаvе trained ѕtаff.

Chесk уоur ѕtаtе’ѕ Department of Education and ѕее if thеу hаvе аnу documents оn рrоviding mental hеаlth ѕеrviсеѕ tо children with disabilities in уоur ѕtаtе whо rесеivе ѕресiаl еduсаtiоn ѕеrviсеѕ, and need thеm.

5 Technologies That Can Help Special Needs Children

You love your children, and want to see them grow and learn. However, when your child has special needs or learning disabilities, it can seem like a constant struggle against the very forces of nature. School programs have made great strides in the last few years towards creating an educational program designed to benefit special needs children, but there is still a long way to go. Thankfully, where other programs or efforts may have failed, technology has succeeded. By using the almost limitless power of modern innovation, you can help your special little person develop independence and reach his or her goals. Here are five technologies that can help special needs children advance.

1. Special keyboards

Sometimes the only thing standing between confusion and understanding is a specially designed keyboard. Computer keyboards and programs designed to help children with physical disabilities, as well as visual and learning disabilities, can improve a child’s ability to communicate, as well as help improve spelling and reading skills. The Teacher’s Institute for Special Education offers specially designed keyboards for a variety of abilities and even takes custom orders.

2. Apps and software

Special applications and school software that makes learning more interesting and accessible are available for all school subjects. Reading, spelling, math, problem solving, and other important skills can be taught using special programs tailored to the specific needs of your child. Video programs that improve attention spans are also available.

ipad3. Mobile smart devices

There’s something about iPads and smartphones that can really capture a child’s attention. In addition to providing access to any number of special apps and programs, smart devices seem perfectly designed for use by special needs children. Those who have difficulty holding books and turning pages can easily swipe a finger across the screen. Best of all, the technology’s capabilities, and the available programs for use with it, are growing every day.

4. Speaking devices

For many special needs children, communication is a big issue. Some children struggle with the confidence to speak out loud, while others want to communicate but are unable to form the right words or sounds. Still others have visual or learning disabilities that prevent them from reading words on a page. Recent advances in speech technology have made it possible for these children to improve their abilities. Those with speech impediments can listen to properly spoken words and better learn to imitate the sounds. Those who have trouble reading can hear the words on the page and make important connections between text and sound.

5. Social media

When it comes to the social aspect of school, many special needs children feel completely left out. This can break your heart as a parent when you see your son or daughter become sad because they can’t enjoy the same relationships as other children. One way to use technology to help make things better is through social media. By connecting with parents of other special needs children, you can set up playdates and plan fun activities for everyone involved. One mom used Facebook to find a prom date for her autistic daughter. Social media can be used in other ways as well, by providing your child with a circle of friends from around the world. It can even help improve language, writing, and other communication skills.

Raising a special needs child can be difficult, but when you see the look of pride light up your child’s face as he or she grasps a new concept for the first time or completes a puzzle that had been difficult, you’ll know that it’s worth it. With technology, you can help your child become something more than they are.

Photo Credit: Steven Moshuris, an autistic student at Belle View Elementary, uses an… (Jahi Chikwendiu/WASHINGTON POST)

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