Tag Archives | special needs

Memory Aids: Visuals

One thing that many special needs children struggle with is remembering what they are taught in school.  If you think about it, the majority of school involves recalling and using information you have learned in the past.  To excel in math, you must first memorize your numbers then understand and remember addition and subtraction before you can move on to multiplication and division.  Almost every subject requires the ability to build upon former knowledge.  So if a child struggles to remember things, it just makes school that much harder for him.  There are several ways you can help your child remember things easier.  The first memory aid is the use of visuals.

Why Visuals?

A visual is any  image or picture that goes along with what your child is trying to remember.  Visuals can be especially helpful for a child with a speech or language problem.  Every person remembers things that they see better than words they hear or read.  How many times have you been able to picture a person, but not remember their name?  For special needs students putting a picture with a concept can give them a mental attachment to the thought which will help them remember it.

Using Visuals

You can use visuals in many different ways as you work with your child.

  • Printed pictures – As you teach or review subjects like history or science, find pictures online or in books that apply to what you are covering.  You could even print out some of the pictures and use them in activities.  For example, if you want your child to remember the main events of the Civil War, print out a picture for each event.  Then have your child practice putting those pictures in the correct order.
  • Child-drawn pictures – Let your child draw small doodle type pictures next to notes on the information they are learning.  Remember the pictures don’t necessarily have to make sense to you, just to the child.  If you want your child to practice their multiplication facts, you could let them doodle a different pictures next to each fact while they are studying.  When you quiz them next, reminding them of the doodle when they forget a fact may help them remember it.
  • Cut up words – Old magazines are a great resource for usable visuals.  Your child could cut out pictures about what you are learning, but they could also cut out the printed words and use them.  For example, if you are studying prepositions in English, have your child make a preposition collage.  Let them cut out all the examples of prepositions they can find in a magazine and glue them onto a large sheet of paper.  Hang the paper somewhere they can see it often.

Putting ideas into picture form can make the difficult task of remember information much easier for students that struggle with language.  In the next post, we will discuss using motions as a memory aid.

How do you use visuals to help your child recall information?

Photo by:  studio tdes


Attention Deficit Disorder and Studying

A child that has attention deficit disorder (ADD) will often have trouble focusing enough to study efficiently.  By definition, having ADD means struggling to spend long periods of time studying and working.  However, there are little changes that your child can make to his study routine that will help him get more out of his studying.

Take Breaks Often

You may feel that children should work on school work until it is completely done.  For a child with ADD though, prolonged study periods with no breaks will just cause them to lose focus even more.  A better plan is to spend a set amount of time studying and then take a 5 – 10 minute break.  For example, spend 20 minutes studying for that History test and then let your child have a 5 minute break to run outside, have a snack, or even play a level of a video game.  If you are homeschooling, do one subject and then take a longer break (10 to 20 minutes).  True, the work may take longer over all, but your child will remember more.

Switch Between Subjects

If your child has several tests or quizzes to study for, it may help to switch back and forth between the subjects.  For example, if your child has a Spelling test and a History quiz, spend ten minutes studying the Spelling words.  Quiz him on the words and mark the ones he gets wrong.  Then switch to studying History.  After ten minutes of History, go back to studying Spelling.  Spending long periods of time on one subject can mean that your child loses his focus and is really just staring at the papers while thinking about other things.  Switching back and forth will keep their focus on what you want them to study instead of other things.

Find a Quiet Place

One of the best things you can do for your child with ADD is to set up a quiet place for them to work or study.  Remember they are easily distracted so any noise and chaos just pulls their focus away from their work.  Find a quiet place in your house where they can work.  Make sure they turn off any music, television, or video games.  It doesn’t have to be a whole room.  It could be something as simple as a beanbag chair in a bedroom that nobody else will be in.

You can help your child with attention deficit disorder study more effectively if you let them study for short time periods in a quiet place.  Studying is hard work for children, but it is important.  What have you found that helps your ADD child study better?

Photo by: Practical Cures


Kids that Fidget

It can be hard for any child to sit still in classes all day long.  Let’s face it – it would be hard for most grown-ups to sit still that long.  Even with breaks, lunch, and recesses, kids are still expected to be still and quiet for long periods of time.  This becomes even more of a struggle for kids with special needs like ADHD or autism.  There are some resources that will give your children an outlet for them to fidget in a calmer manner.

Pencil Fidgets

Kids that have to be doing something with their hands with appreciate these pencil toppers.  Each of the four kinds has a long piece that fits on the pencil.  The long piece holds a shorter piece that can move up and down.  A child can sit in class with their pencil and still be able to move their hands without distracting other students or the teacher.

Stress Balls

Another help for kids that fidget is the common stress ball.  In this case, the stress ball is not just to relieve stress.  The purpose instead is simply for the child to have something to do with their hands.  Squeezing the stress ball allows children to release energy in a less active way.

Chew Objects

While some children need to move or fidget with their hands, other children need to chew on things.  If not given something specific, these students tend to bite their fingernails, chew on their pencils, or even suck on their hands.  If you child is a student like this, it may help to give them something that is specifically for them to chew on.  Companies are making chewing objects for kids that are fun and cute accessories.  Boys will like the dog tags while girls with feel pretty in a beaded necklace.

So if your child needs to fidget in class, try out one of these toys.  Maybe they need to hand movement or feeling in their mouth to help them concentrate.  Maybe the need to move or chew is completely out of their control.  Either way, these toys are resources that can help.  What other sensory toys does your child like to use?

Photo by: Kids that Fidget


Helping Children Deal With Anger

Anger can be a real issue for children with special needs.  Whether your child is on the autism spectrum, has a reading disability, or struggles to pay attention because of ADD, frustration and anger can cause them to want to quit on their schoolwork.  It is important to teach your child to deal with their anger in healthy ways.  They may always feel angry about circumstances and events in their life, but they can learn to manage the anger instead of acting on it.

Take a Break

One of the best ways to keep anger under control is to take a break from what is causing the anger.  You could teach your child to walk away from a situation and go to a quiet place (their room, the kitchen table, or a certain spot in their classroom).  Teach them to stay in this spot until they feel calmer.  Remember though that this is something you want them to learn to do on their own.  It is not a punishment.  You can encourage your child to walk away, but don’t try to force them to stay in the chosen spot.  If a special needs child feels like he is being punished, the anger will probably get worse, not better.  You can also ask your child’s teacher if your child can take a break from a subject that is frustrating them and go back to it later in the day.

Use Their Words

One problem that can cause anger is the inability for some children to put their thoughts and feelings into words.  Imagine how frustrated you would be if you were trying to talk, but no one could understand you or you didn’t know how to tell someone what you were thinking or feeling.  During times when your child is not angry, have them practice using their words to talk about their feelings.  Role play possible situations that would upset them and have them tell you in words how they would feel or what they would tell their teacher about the situation.  It could also help to give them a special feelings journal.  Tell them that they can write in the journal anytime they want or about anything they want.  Encourage them to write down things that bother them throughout the day.  In addition to just writing in the journal, you could look at the journal with your child every night and talk with him about what bothered him during the day.

Think From the Perspective of Others

Many special needs students have a hard time putting themselves in the place of others.  Because they tend to focus only on themselves, it can be difficult for them to understand things like why a child refused to give up a favorite toy or why they didn’t get to use the blue marker first.  When you talk with your child about things that have made them angry, try to get them to see what made the other child act the way they did.  (You may not be able to do this until your child has calmed down quite a bit.)  Ask your child what he would have done if he was the other child.

Anger is a real problem for some children, but with your help your child can learn to control his anger.  What other strategies do you use when teaching your children to manage their anger?

Photo by: greg westfall


Motivating an ADHD Student

It can be hard to keep a student with ADHD motivated and working hard.  They are so prone to daydreaming that keeping them focused can be a challenge.  Their are some tricks you can use to help keep them focused and motivated as they work.

Break Work Into Smaller Chunks

Sometimes long worksheets or a whole page of math problems will overwhelm an ADHD child.  When they feel overwhelmed, they shut down and become less focused on their work.  You can solve that problem simply by splitting the same assignment into smaller sections.  Use a piece of construction paper to cover up the bottom two-thirds of the page.  Then tell your child that they can have a short break when they finish that top section.  When they finish, give them a 5 minute break before having them do the next third of the page.  Just shortening the amount of problems they have to look at all at once can help an ADHD child focus better.

Time Their Work

You can also have them race to beat their own time on each section of the paper.  As they start each section, start a timer somewhere that they can see it.  After the section, write down their time for that section.  Time them on each section and encourage them to see if they can beat their own time.  You may want to keep an eye out though for how they react to the timer.  For most children, seeing the timer will motivate them to work faster.  Some students, however, may get distracted by the timer and actually work slower.  If you find this to be the case, try putting the timer in a place that they cannot see and just telling them their end time for each section.

Give Them Caffeine

This may sound strange to say about a child, but a small amount of caffeine before an assignment or class can keep them more focused.  Of course, I don’t mean that you should give them a full cup of coffee before every class!  But if you notice that they are getting more and more distracted, give them a mini candy bar or a chocolate kiss.  You could also give them a soda during lunch to help them focus during those long afternoon classes.  The jolt of caffeine stimulates their brain and allows them to stay involved in their work instead of sleepy and daydreaming.

It is difficult to force an ADHD student to pay attention through an entire day of classes, but there are things that can help.  Talk with your child’s teacher about possibly implementing some of these ideas.  Or teach your child to use these ideas on their own.  You will see a difference in their attention before too long!  What other tricks do you use to help your ADHD student focus on their work?

Photo by:  Practical Cures


The 2011 Basketball Draft Lottery & Neurofibromatosis

Living in South Florida, basketball has been a hot topic this year.  The formation of the ‘dream team’ including Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh has definitely created a stir.  While many eyes are still on the finals and who will win the championship, this week the basketball Draft Lottery was conducted.   The Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost Lebron James as their star player this year, definitely came out on top in the draft.  They now have the first and fourth selections in the 2011 draft this summer that can allow them to pick 2 top players to help rebuild their team.


The interesting point, which connects this post to education and special needs students  is that the individual who made the pick which allows the team to select the first player in the draft was the Cleveland Cavaliers  owner’s son , and good luck charm, Nick Gilbert.  Nick is 14 years old and became a celebrity overnight.  He was dressed to impress and has had many complements on his throw-back glasses and bow tie.  The unique thing about Nick is that he has a genetic disorder called Neurofibromatosis.  His popularity from this event will hopefully raise awareness about the disorder in hopes for a possible cure.


Neurofibromatosis, or NF, is a genetic disorder that caused the growth of tumors on nerve tissue.    The tumors can cause various problems with the skin, skeletal system, and other neurological problems.  The severity of the disorder can vary.  NF is also commonly linked with other learning disabilities, epilepsy and leukemia.  There is no cure for NF.  Therapy is done to reduce the number of tumors and surgery can remove the tumors, however more tumors will grow back.  If the tumors are cancerous, then chemotherapy is administered.  The Neurofibromatosis Association is hopeful that there will be a cure within the next 5-10 years.

Nick has had brain surgery and chemotherapy to help him to manage with the tumors and secondary complications related to NF.  Nick has also lost vision in one of his eyes.  Despite his health issues, he is a very optimistic and energetic boy.

Nick is also the ambassador for the Children’s Tumor Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports research and awareness of NF.  With his exposure on the Draft Lottery, I hope that Nick will be a great ambassador to encourage others to support the research of NF through various fundraising activities.  May is NF Awareness Month and May 17th is also World NF Awareness Day.  In conjunction with these events, during the Draft Lottery, Nick tweeted, offered special prizes, and encouraged participates to text in a donation to help support the Children’s Tumor Foundation matching all of the funds raised.

NF & School

NF can be very difficult for children in the classroom, especially if the tumors are large and in places that other students can notice like the face, neck, and arms.  Some of the most well-known cases of NF are stories that have been aired on television involving teenagers who have tumors on their faces and then undergo surgery to remove the tumor.

Students with NF can struggle mastering material, have difficulty with penmanship, and language delays among social concerns and issues.  Like with most disabilities, early intervention, building a good relationship between the teacher and the child and family, and understanding how the disorder will affect the child’s education are very important.

Links for Learning about & Teaching Students with NF

  1. Children’s Tumor Foundation
  2. Preparing Teachers to teach a student with NF
  3. Brochure including helpful facts and figures about NF

Article By Laura Ketcham

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April: Autism Awareness Month

April is Autism Awareness Month.  This month is dedicated to spreading awareness about autism through various events that help to raise money for research about this developmental disorder.  The Autism Society began holding Autism Awareness Month in the 1970’s.


Autism impacts social and communication skills.  There are varying degrees of autism including Kanner’s Syndrome (classic autism), Rett Syndrome, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder.  Autism is measured on the Autism Spectrum Disorders scale and can range from mild to severe.   Autism is typically diagnosed between birth and two years of age.  When the diagnosis happens at a young age, interventions can begin to help the child with social interactions and learning communication skills.

Typically, a form titled ARI’s diagnostic form is used to diagnose autism.  Questions about the pregnancy, birth, developmental growth stages, and behaviors of the child are used to calculate a score.  This score is then utilized in part of the diagnosis process for autism.

There are many organizations and companies that are dedicated to helping individuals with autism.  Many of them provide information on this disorder, raise funds for research, and provide support for families and individuals with autism.

The Autism Society

The Autism Society is a non-profit organization that strives to improve the lives of all individuals with autism.  They are actively involved in pursuing educational initiatives for children with autism as well as holding conferences and providing assistance to families with autistic children.  For Autism Awareness Month, The Autism Society has an article with an annotated list of events that are happening around the United States to build awareness and raise funds for autism research.

Autism Speaks

Autism Speaks is a non-profit advocacy organization for autism research, treatments, and support.  Their website provides information about autism, ways to raise money for autism research, and support for families with autistic children.  The information section is a great resource for teachers to learn what autism is, theories about what contributes to the development of autism, how it is diagnosed, how it is treated, special education services provided for students with autism, and family planning for a child with autism.  These valuable resources can help to lead to the diagnosis and treatment of a student with autism and make the teacher more aware of classroom modifications that will need to be made for students with autism.

The Autism Education Network

The Autism Education Network provides information about special education rights for students with autism.  They also coordinate trainings, programs, and services to help support families with autistic children.   There is a resource center with links, books, downloads of autism reading materials, and connections to find experts or speakers in the field of autism.  This network also helps families make connections with other families with autistic children in their area.


Vizzle is an online learning program for students with autism.  There are pre-made lessons that can be customized to meet the student and classroom needs or teachers can also create their own lessons with the large database of pictures and sounds.  Students learn academic-based curriculum with the use of pictures, sounds, video, and animations.  Lessons can also include teaching students social, communication, and every-day task skills.

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Pets for Your Classroom (Real & Virtual)

Students definitely benefit from having pets in the classroom.  It provides the students with a sense of pride and the ability to be a care taker.  Caring for a pet encourages shared responsibility.  Studies have shown that it doesn’t matter if the pet is live or virtual, the same teaching outcomes can be achieved.

For special needs students, pets can provide an outlet for students to reduce tension, take responsibility, and learn how to care for the animal.  These skills can then be transferred through teacher-based lessons that make the connections between caring for the animal to caring for oneself including health and hygiene.


Live Pets in the Classroom

When I did my student teaching in a fourth grade classroom, I donated a fish tank full of colorful inexpensive, fish with the approval (and excitement) of my preceptor and supervisor.  I had a tank in my home for many years and was comfortable with the care and could coach the teacher.   This was a great teaching tool that was easy to take care of in a classroom setting.  Students would offer to come in early to help with the tasks associated with the care including feeding, water changes, water testing, and even tank cleanings. Parents also volunteered supplies for the care of the fish and one parent even helped to buy additional fish.  The local aquarium store owner and staff are always willing to help teachers with their tanks and are a valuable community resource.

The learning connections included teaching the students about the various types of fish in the tank, their diet, where the fish could be found in the wild, and their water needs (appropriate pH, ammonia, and nitrate levels).  When we first got the tank, each student was assigned one of the fish in the tank to research.  They then made PowerPoint presentations to share with the class about what they learned about their new pet.

One of the most exciting moments for the class was when the guppy had babies.  The babies must be separated immediately from the mother for them to survive.  Make sure you are prepared with a separation device that can be purchased from the fish store so the mother will not eat the babies.  This can be a teachable moment, but will need to be handled with sensitivity if you want to share this fact with your students.

One other tool that is definitely handy to have for break times or long weekends is an automated feeder.  This doses out a daily serving of fish food automatically.

Other pets that are classroom friendly, but require a bit more care, include rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, and turtles.  When choosing a pet, you should definitely research the temperament, care, and allergy concerns of that animal.  Then, you can determine if it will meet the needs of your classroom.  A plan should definitely be in place for the care of the animal including daily care and preparations for care over long weekends and breaks.

Here are some great online resources to help you plan to have a live animal in your classroom:

1.        KinderArt:  Pets in the Classroom

2.       Teacher Classroom Web:  Classroom Animals and Pets

3.       Suite 101:  Selecting the Right Classroom Pet

Virtual Pets

A great alternative to live pets in the classroom is a virtual classroom pet.  I know many think of the Tamagotchi or Neopets when they think of a virtual pet. The Tamagotchi is a keychain virtual pet that has to be fed, cleaned, played with, and overall cared for like a live pet.  The keychain makes noises to indicate needed care.  Neopets is an online virtual pet store where students create an account, care for their pet, and play games to “pay” for the care and fun items for their pet.  This site is run by Nickelodeon and has a very large child following.

Another similar virtual pet website is called Adopt Me.  The classroom (or individual students) can create an account and adopt a virtual pet like a virtual cat, horse, dog, or fish.  Students get to name their pet.  They can then travel around town, provide care, and play with their pet.   Students can see their friends pets online through their login information.  The pets can also have jobs to earn money to help pay for the care and fun times with the pet.  Another great classroom connection is that the students can blog about their pet through this website.

There is also an alternative to the traditional virtual pet where students can “adopt” wild animals and follow them via GPS tracking devices.  Last year, my 7th grade class “adopted” a loggerhead sea turtle named FeeBee.  She is a GPS tagged turtle that was released by an environmental complex and nature center called Gumbo Limbo in Boca Raton, Florida.  The students were able track Fee Bee daily to see her movements in the ocean via a website called  Many animals can be adopted online via this website for the students to follow via GPS tracking devices including sea turtles, sharks, birds, and sea lions.  This website also provides teacher materials to help you to plan how to implement this type of activity in the classroom.  I planned the adoption of Fee Bee in the summer and developed many academic lessons and classroom activities around this “pet” for the entire semester.  The project was evaluated as highly successful by administrators, parents, and students. Unfortunately, GPS systems may cease transmission and this must be considered carefully when choosing this type of adoption for a classroom project.  Feelings of loss occur just as with the death of classroom pet.

Whether real or virtual, pets can definitely add a fun and interactive way for students to be excited about learning.

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Apps for Teachers in School

If you are a lucky teacher who owns (or is provided by your school) an iPod Touch, iPad, or even iPhone, then this is the blog post for you.  I have written several posts about apps that would be great for students to use in the classroom, but now I’m going to turn the tables and provide you with a list of apps that would be great for teachers to use in the classroom.



Percentally is a low-cost app to keep track of tally marks.  This app would be very helpful in many different classroom scenarios.  It could be used to keep track of student participation, the number of times a student is redirected in class, or even to mark down the number of questions the student received correct on a verbal or written assignment.  The tally marks can are automatically converted into percentage points through the use of the dual mode.  This would be great to keep track of the number of answers correct, for example 5 out of 8 answers correct.  In the single mode you only track one tally, for example 3 warnings.  The tally mark information can then be quickly transferred to a Google Spreadsheet or manually entered into a gradebook or anecdotal notes on a student.  Here is a video demo of this app in action.


iReward is a low-cost app that is an electronic behavior modification chart.  With this app you can setup a student in the program and then create the behavior you would like the child to achieve along with the reward they will earn.  You then choose how many times the behavior must be displayed for the student to earn the reward.  You can add a picture to the reward chart to encourage the student to earn the reward, for example a picture of the correct behavior.  You can take a picture and load it, or use a picture that you already have.

After the chart is set up, all you have to do is tap the star to indicate that the behavior has been displayed and it changes color from white to gold.  When all of the stars are filled in, they will all turn red.  A video of congratulations (or other reward videos) can be applied for when the student has achieved the award.

There are many modifications you can make to this reward system.  You can also select the stars to revert them back to white if a student has displayed the incorrect behavior.  To reset the stars, you just double tap to remove the colored filling.  If a student has achieved the goal of the behavior modification, you can delete the option by swiping across the row of a reward and then select delete.  To prevent unwanted changes you can also password protect the rewards under the settings mode.  After editing the reward, you relock it by shaking your electronic device.  Here is a video demo of iReward.

Remember the Milk

Remember the Milk is a free organizational checklist app.  I know as a teacher that there are so many different tasks to do in each day of the school week.  This app can help to manage the different tasks that you need to get done.  Items could include parent meetings, staff meetings, student conferences, when to make copies, what lessons you need to plan for, items you may need to pick up at the store for your classes, or even activities or lessons for the day.  These lists can be shared with other programs like a Google Calendar, Outlook, or Twitter.  Alerts can be set to remind you though your smart phone, email, text messages, or instant messages.  Tasks can be tagged by applying keywords or even locations on a Google Map.  There are many options you can apply including choosing a title for your task, a date, time, and if it repeats.  Tasks can be marked as incomplete or complete.  Tasks can be scheduled in advance or for the current day.

I also found a great resource that has a variety of apps that are subject area related.  There are apps for science, math, language arts, and social studies teachers.  Do you have any favorite apps that you use for teaching?

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Low-Tech Classroom Aids for Special Needs Students

Making adaptations for special needs students in your classroom does not always have to be high-tech.  In a blog post from last year, I shared several low-tech options for teachers to use in their classroom to make the curriculum more accessible.  There are many other low-tech tools besides special pencils and grips, post-its, and highlighters.  This post will focus on a few more pocketbook-friendly tools that you can use with your special needs students that can be found at your local craft and office supply stores.


Soothing & Calming Tools

The school day can be a stressful time both academically and socially for all students and even more so for some students with special needs.  Offering students opportunities for soothing and calming experiences can help them to control or manage their stress and emotions.  Providing students with soothing sensory items that can be taped or stapled under their desk can be a creative solution.  At a craft store, you can purchase different items like feathers, felt, Velcro, or foam.  These different tactile feelings provide an outlet for students to calm emotions and refocus on classroom tasks.

Students with cerebral palsy or some students with autism may have difficultly controlling saliva.  Providing a sweat band they can wear on their wrist can help them to wipe their mouth area.  This can help the student to feel more confident about interacting with other students in the classroom and provide them with one less thing to worry about.

Accessibility Tools

One tool that I use a lot in my computer classroom is book rests.  This helps the students to lean the textbook up while completing their computer-based assignments.  This can also be very helpful in the regular classroom.  I’ve purchased actual book rests from the local office supply store, but you could also use frame holders that can be bought at the craft store for perhaps a lower price.  This provides a physical prop for their books to help raise them up where it may be either a better position for the student to read or more accessible for them to turn the page.

Even in my 7th grade classroom, some students are not tall enough to reach the floor when sitting in the chair.  Especially when teaching about computer ergonomics and keyboarding, I provide them with a FREE resource to help them be more comfortable when sitting – a phone book!  They can use this as their foot rest and helps them to be more comfortable in the chairs during class and helps them to focus on the academic lesson.

Academic Tools

Academically, there may need to be physical accommodations employed in order for students to be most successful.  Some low-tech strategies can be easy solutions for simple accommodations.  One example is if a student is struggling to keep their paper on their desk because of limited use of their hands or arms, you can use magnets or tape to hold down the papers on the desk.

During reading assignments (both silent or group), if a student has a hard time following along on which line they are one, they can use a clear colored ruler to use as a guide.  After each line the student would move the ruler down as they continue reading.

For math assignments, large key calculators may be more appropriate than the small scientific kind.  You can find these types of calculators almost anywhere including office supply stores or even the grocery store.

Students who have difficulty gripping art supplies can benefit from supplies that are larger in size and easier to grip.  Craft stores sell larger crayons, which are typically used for toddlers and pre-k students, however they work great with older students with difficulty gripping.  Thinking beyond just crayons, paint brushes, paint tubes, scissors, and glue all come in larger sizes and can be found at the craft store as well.

There are many low-tech cost-effective tools that you can use in your classroom to help students to be socially and academically successful.  Do you have any favorites that you use in your classroom?

Article By Laura Ketcham

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