How to Teach Adults With Special Needs

Adults with special needs have the same desire for learning and growth as everyone else.

Adults with special needs are no different in many ways than their non-disabled peers. They have the same desire for learning and growth. They have goals and dreams that can be furthered by education. They enjoy the sense of accomplishment that learning brings. Changing the pace of instruction, the amount of review and reinforcement, and the modality of presentation can help adults with special need learn more efficiently. Teachers need only remember to use sound educational principles to guide your lessons.

Create a climate of mutual respect. An adult with special needs should be treated as a peer rather than as a child no matter his level of intellectual functioning. The teacher-student relationship should be similar to any relationship based on equality. Accommodate any special needs such as vision, hearing or movement problems without drawing attention to the accommodations provided. Always ask before providing assistance, and respect everyone's personal space boundaries.

Set goals with adult learners with special needs. Some may need assistance in articulating academic goals, but many can indicate a desired outcome in terms of life skills. An adult with special needs might wish to become more active in the community, utilize the library, read a newspaper or manage a bank account more independently. Other goals might include increasing independence with cooking by reading recipes, managing checklists for job training or household chores, or using a computer.

Analyze the task or skill the student wishes to learn. Break the goal down into small steps that build upon one another. A large goal, such as improving reading skills, can be broken into smaller areas such as mastery of sight words, development of phonemic awareness and learning phonics concepts. Assess the student's present level of functioning relative to the stated goals. Informal assessment tools, such as observation or demonstration, are valuable for gathering information regarding the learner's current understanding of the task and the necessary skills.

Begin instruction by reviewing skills that are already mastered. Create lessons to demonstrate, teach and practice each skill needed to achieve the overall goal. Be sure to match the pace of lessons and the amount of review and reinforcement to the learner's needs. Provide ample practice opportunities, incorporate over-learning and celebrate even the smallest bits of progress. Design lessons so that the learner is successful most of the time, and always start and end lessons with activities likely to be pleasant and positive.

Build opportunities for choice and self-direction into each lesson. Learners will be far more motivated when they can choose the lesson to some degree. Develop a clear and tangible method of recording progress on goals that the student can understand, such as a graph, chart or checklist.

Sandy Fleming is a writer and educator from Michigan with master's and bachelor's degrees in special education. She has been writing for the Web for more than 10 years and does private tutoring with children and adults. Her areas of expertise include educational and parenting topics as well as how-to articles and informative pieces. Fleming writes for numerous Internet publications and the local newspaper.