Tools for special education

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Special education teachers use a range of tools to help their learners. This article examines five of the most useful technologies designed for students with special needs.

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Teachers working in special education face a host of challenges. These challenges range from a lack of support from their schools to increasing paperwork relating to students and their disabilities.

Add to this the need to manage a wide range of conditions, and the problem can stack up quickly. For example, students with autism have different educational needs from those with other impairments, such as dyslexia or ADHD.

With so many challenges, teachers and learners benefit significantly from using assistive technology. This article examines five tools that aid in developing the life skills that those with learning disabilities need.


The assistive technology that aids special education

The tools presented in this list aren’t normally used in general education. Instead, they’re often used as part of individual education plans (IEPs) taught in special education classrooms. Let’s look at some special education learning tools.


Text to speech readers

On the surface, text to speech (TTS) software is pretty simple. A student copies text into a textbox. The software then reads the text aloud to the student.

The tool meets the student’s needs by reading the text in plain English language. Naturally, this helps special education students who have issues with reading comprehension. For example, a student with dyslexia is more likely to understand the contents of worksheets if fed through TTS tools.

On the more advanced level, text to speech can help students in each grade level with their language skills. These technology tools often come with multiple language options, making them ideal for teaching foreign languages.

Finally, text to speech is a valuable piece of edtech for those with a visual impairment. Instead of struggling to read text, those with visual problems can have it read to them. This reading allows them to focus on their work instead of wasting time on a difficult task.


Graphic organizers

A graphic organizer is a visual thinking tool commonly used in special education programs. They work by allowing people in special ed classes to make pictures of what they’re thinking. 

Visual learners, such as dyslexic students, can benefit from using pictures in their graphic organizers. You can download free vector icons – which look like little pictures on a computer screen – and use them to visualize relationships between facts or ideas. Or you can use clip art that comes with Microsoft Office (it’s called “Picture Tool”) and has already been created for you by other people. Think of them as maps that lead the learner toward what they need to understand.

Many who have learning disabilities understand information better when it’s presented visually rather than in pure text form. Graphic organizers create the visual learning environment these students need. Use these tools in any public school that has special education classrooms.

There are several types of graphic organizers you may use in the classroom:

  • Venn diagrams
  • Concept maps
  • Flow charts
  • Mind maps

Using fidgets

Fidgeting is often a habit that teachers try to drum out of their students. However, fidgets can be a valuable part of a special education teacher’s toolkit.


The brain needs to stay alert during lessons. This alertness is a challenge for many students with special needs. Their brains may become alert but then struggle to sustain that alertness.

Movement can help with this problem.

Fidgets keep the brain engaged while keeping the student calm. Little fidgets with the hands and legs, such as tapping feet or doodling, ensures the brain keeps sending signals to the body. As a result, the brain stays alert.

Simply put, allow children with special needs to fidget. Of course, there are limits. Fidgeting should not get in the way of learning. Remember that a little fidget often helps somebody with special needs stay engaged in a lesson.


FM listening systems

Frequency modulation (FM) listening systems are adaptive tools created for people who have auditory processing issues. They reduce background noise in the classroom. Many also amplify the teacher’s voice.

The effect is that the teacher’s voice becomes front and center. Students pay more attention because the voice is all they can hear.

The concept is simple.

Teachers wear small microphones that broadcast their speech. Students often wear personal receivers that pipe the teacher’s speaking directly to their ears. Concentration improves as the student can focus on the teacher’s words.

This assistive technology is handy for teaching those with hearing impairments, language issues, and students on the autism spectrum.


Sip-and-puff systems

Many students in special education have mobility challenges. Some struggle with fine motor skills, while others may have limb paralysis.

Sip-and-puff systems help these students to communicate and work using their mouths.

For example, a student can use their mouth to move a controller in any direction on a computer. They can also use sips and puffs to click on navigational icons. Some versions of these systems also allow students to use mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

As switch devices, sip-and-puff systems are replacements for a keyboard and mouse. The student’s sips and puffs replace the movement and clicking of the mouse. Similar devices include buttons and any other object a student can push, pull, or interact with to use a computer.


Introducing Speechify – the TTS reader for the classroom

With text to speech apps being so valuable in helping students with speech-language challenges, you naturally want to start your search for one. Though there are many on the market, Speechify offers the features required for special education classes.

The app is available on several platforms, including iOSmacOS, and Android. It’s also available as a Google Chrome extension.

Speechify offers many narrator voices, allowing students to pick the voice with which they’re most comfortable. It can also read text in 14 languages, including English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.

With Speechify, you add valuable software to your special education toolkit. Best of all, you can try it for free on the Speechify website to see if it’s suitable for your classroom.



What tools are used in the classroom?

Many tools are used in classrooms, ranging from traditional whiteboards to tools created for special education. This article presents a list of five designed for students with special needs.


What technology is used in special education?

Beyond the tools in the article, many other technologies are used in special education. Examples include math simulators and proofreaders.


What are educational tools?

An educational tool is anything a teacher uses to help learners.

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