Tag Archives | special needs

How Pets Help Individuals with Special Needs

Pets can help students with special needs in so many different ways.  They can be used in therapy to help calm students or to provide a non-threatening communication aide.  Animals can also be used for physical therapy to help strengthen muscles.  The animal most associated with helping children with special needs is the dog; however horses and dolphins are also regularly used in therapy and assistance.


Leader Dogs for the Blind

I grew up in a town that has an organization called Leader Dogs for the Blind.  This group trains dogs and provides them to individuals with visual impairments to help them lead a more independent and mobile life.   This is the only program in the United States to train individuals who are deaf and blind to work with a guide dog.

Volunteers raise the dogs through their first year on socialization and obedience.  After the dog has been trained, the individual receiving the dog goes through a month long program where they learn how to interact and work with the dog, including teaching the dog sign language.  The program is free to the recipient of the dog.  Their website has additional information along with inspirational stories and videos of individuals working with the guide dogs.

Leader Dogs for the Blind also has a program for students to get involved with their organization.  There are materials on their website with lesson plans for teachers about vision and leader dogs.  This could be a great organization for students to get involved with and help raise money for this great organization.

Dolphin Human Therapy

There are two organizations that employ the use of animals to assist students with special needs in the area where I currently live:  Dolphin Human Therapy and Horses for the Handicapped.  Dolphin Human Therapy, based out of Miami, is an organization that helps individuals with special needs through swimming with dolphins.   After one or two weeks of interaction the dolphin’s, students showed gains in speech, language, motor , and behavior skills.  Families and teachers are closely involved during the process.  The dolphin therapy was a successful motivator for the students.  Dolphin Human Therapy does not currently run therapy programs in Miami, but now helps other organizations to build similar programs based on their research findings.

Horses and the Handicapped

Horses and the Handicapped is another South Florida based program where students with special needs can ride horses.  The horses help to provide a connection for the students and gains have been made including physical, mental, and emotional aspects.  The program has grown tremendously over the past 20 years and now runs a summer program for students with special needs along with serving over 130 riders.  Their facilities include a covered arena and technology equipment to help riders on and off the horses.  Many local high school students volunteer their time to help this program.  Riders have also been involved in the local and State Special Olympic Equestrian matches.

There are also many other organization around the country that train various animals to help individuals with special needs.  Check out local organizations near you to volunteer or to gain more information for your students and their parents!

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By Velo Steve

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Assistive Technology for Students in Music Class

When I remember my high school days, my fondest memories are that of being part of the band program.  I participated in the marching band, the percussion ensemble, and the symphony band. I even continued on to join the marching band at the University of Miami.  Being part of such great groups made me feel a sense of belonging and increased my overall responsibility as a student.  Music is a universal language where all students are able to connect, including students with special needs.  Some people may think that students with special needs are unable to participate because their disabilities may inhibit them from playing an instrument. However there are many low-tech and high-tech assistive technology tools to aid them in playing an instrument.


Adaptions for Reading Music

Students who have low vision may only need the sheet music to be enlarged in order for them to read the notes that they should be playing.  This is a very easy accommodation for the teacher to implement, by just using the photocopier enlarge option.  Some sheet music even comes already printed in larger font.  The music can also be translated into braille for students who are blind.

High-Tech & Low-Tech Assistive Technology Tools

For students who have difficulty either holding an instrument or reaching all of the keys, there are many tech tools to help out.  Clamps, toggle-keys, joysticks, and switches, can all be added to an adapted woodwind or brass instrument.  There is a great article about a boy named Lukas who participates in his high school band, playing the euphonium, through the use of a joystick that pushes the buttons on the instrument.  Woodwind instruments can be adapted with a toggle key for students who only have the ability to move one hand.  There is a very inspiring video of David Naab playing the saxophone with the use of a toggle-key.

Students who are deaf or hearing impaired can also be involved in the band.  Many students who have hearing disabilities do not have trouble playing the instrument or reading music, but have difficulty following along with the group because of the difficulty hearing.  Cochlear implants and hearing aids have helped these students learn to play music instruments.  There are computer programs where students follow the music with the vibrations and variations on the screen, which will then help them to play along with an ensemble.

Other Musical Options

Students with more severe disabilities can still be involved in the band through percussion instruments.  Students can be given instruments like bells, bongos, or a tambourine and given visual cues as to when to strike the instrument.  This means that the student would still be involved, but not necessarily have to be able to learn how to read the music notes on the staff.  However, to ensure interest is high, students should not be given the same instrument day after day and should experience a variety of percussion instruments.

Another cool “old-tech” – “high-tech” musical instrument option for individuals with disabilities is called the Hotz Box.  The Hotz Box is a musical keyboard that is connected through the computer.  There is a video including an introduction by Mick Fleetwood and a performance by a special needs adult who had never played the instrument before.  This instrument can be learned in the matter of minutes and can be integrated into a rock band and used for expressing oneself through music.

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By Joe Shlabotnik

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Students Gather the Troops for Holiday Project

The holidays are usually a time when people like to give back to those in need. Even though many of us have our differences and challenges in life, there is always something we can do to make the world a better place for many other people.

school for the blind

At the state School for the Blind in Batavia, New York, 54 students participated in a “Treats for Troops” project. Students recently went shopping for items while others wrapped gifts, stuffed stockings and put together other holiday treats. For the students who are blind, Braille letters were transcribed by the staff for the 30 people who are currently serving with the Navy in Afghanistan. For these soldiers, this will be their first package since being deployed this summer.

The students are more than happy to send them some holiday cheer to these deserving people. Started after a teacher’s assistant learned about how these soldiers were not getting mail, the school and community got involved in this holiday project. Local businesses even got in on some of the action.

The students were able to learn many important lessons through the production of this project, like community service, money and budgeting and orientation and mobility, and more importantly, team work. It was a way for them to understand some of the feelings of other people and help them in any way they could.

The soldiers are expected to be overjoyed when they receive their packages this holiday season. What a great way to truly honor our troops!

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Online Resources Provided by the US Department of Education (Part 3 of 3)

In my previous posts I wrote about Tech Matrix and The National Center for Technology Innovation.  These organization’s websites contain a wealth of technology resources for special education teachers, administrators, professional development trainers, and technology coordinators to widen their knowledge about technology and special education.  These were two of three Department of Education organizations that I recently found while searching online.


Today’s post is about another Department of Education organization, The Center for Implementing Technology in Education.  My first experience with this website was watching their narrated tour of their website.  This link was a great first look at what this site has to offer.  I definitely suggest checking it out.

There are three main categories on this site:  the Learn Center, the Action Center, and the Research Center.  All of these can be best utilized by becoming a free registered user under the My Center link.  When you register you are able to bookmark and tag links and articles that you find relevant to what you want to know or to learn about.  You can then share these resources and create ‘toolkits’ to send your colleagues, teams, or teacher friends.

The Learn Center

The Learn Center provides resources for a variety of educational professionals including teachers, administrators, technology coordinators, and professional development coordinators.  When you go to this site, you chose your role, and you will be directed to a page of resources that fits your designated role.  Under the teachers link, the site is broken down into four sections – responsibilities, topics, featured resources, and related research.  Under all of the sections, the user chooses the categories of interest and then the selection will provide further resources from various online resources to learn more about the topic.  These resources range from research articles, blogs, state resources, and other organizations that support the education of special needs children.  This website is a great jumping-off point to learn more and stay current with trends in technology with special needs students.

Action Center

The Action Center provides professional development materials and the EdTech Locator.  The EdTech Locator was discussed in my first post about the Tech Matrix.  This tool is great for professional development to determine where you, your staff, or your school is at in means of technology integration.  This resource provides information to help take you from the early stage of integration to the target state of integration.

Research Center

The Research Center contains article links about emerging and current best practices of technology integration for the special education classroom.  This information can be applied to local schools and assist in making technology choices in the special education classroom.  One article from this section I found interesting was research that was done at different levels of education on calculator implementation in the special education classroom.  Overall, the research findings were that the use of calculators had a positive impact on operational and problem solving skills.

Overall, I hope that you have found the past three posts to be very informative and as great resources for learning more about technology in special education.  These sites represent the now and the future of how technology can help students with special needs to achieve academic and social goals helping them to become independent and active citizens in their adult lives.  These three resources would be great to share with your fellow colleagues, those who are both special education teachers and those who have special education students in their mainstream classrooms.  I have learned a lot about the various tools, websites, research, and products available for special needs students from these resources and I hope you have too.

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By Lin Pernille ♥ Photography

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Online Resources Provided by the US Department of Education (Part 2)

In my previous post I wrote about Tech Matrix, an online database of technology resources for teachers to help in educating special education students.  This was one of three Department of Education organizations that I recently found while searching online.


Today’s post is about another Department of Education organization that I found was very helpful for learning about technology for special needs student: The National Center for Technology Innovation.  This site is directed more toward researchers and companies that make assistive technology, however, as a teacher, I found the information useful to keep up-to-date on the cutting edge research in special education and assistive technology.

Technology Innovators Conference

This organization will be holding an intriguing conference in Washington D.C. in the middle of November called the Technology Innovators Conference.  This conference is based upon  research grants that are applied for the prior year for their program called Tech in the Works.  The research on the chosen topics is then completed, and then the researchers share their findings at the conference.  Resources of past conferences including online video and presentations can also be found online.  This is a great resource to learn about the top research topics in this field.

Other Resources & Articles

Under their Products Link in a Section called Yellow Pages, I found a resource where teachers can find funding for assistive technology for the classroom.  You can also search  people, research projects, and vendors through this feature.

Relevant articles can be found through the Case Studies, Publications, and Innovator Profiles links.  Topics include speech technology, the future of assistive technology, assistive tech products put to the test, and using technology to empower students.  Many of these articles revolve around various products and technology programs that are on the market for special needs individuals.  This information can be very helpful when comparing various technologies that you may want to implement into your classroom.

Top Tech Trends for Special Education

The trends section of this website aggregates information from the top online resources including blogs, journals, magazines, and newspapers.  This information is then represented using a word cloud.  The links of words that are the largest are the ones that are the most written about topics in the trends today.  Selecting on the links will bring you to pages of articles and resources about this topic.  Below, topics can also be chosen based on pre-set categories of interest.  One cloud link that I found interesting and current was about portable technology.  Many of the articles are about the iPad, e-books, and cell phones and how they are helping individuals with disabilities to communicate.

Overall, this is a great website for special education teachers (and students who are studying to become special education teachers) to find information about current trends in special education technology and the research of the future.  The articles I found were intriguing and make me to read and learn more.

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By ~Brenda-Starr~

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iCan with the iPad – Usage for Special Needs

For many children, the iPad is just another form of entertainment. They can play games, listen to music and do other types of fun activities. But for some children, it can do more than that.

The video below is about a boy named Owen, who was born healthy, but diagnosed at 8 weeks old with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Type 1. Doctors expected him only to live for 2 years. Although he has now lost nearly all muscular movement, he lived. He also has learned to read, do math and write, all from the help of his parents.


Over the past few years, Owen’s mother has been looking for different technologies to help her son learn. Many of these technologies have been very expensive and not proven to be as helpful as expected. One day, Owen’s nurse brought over an iPad for him to use. Since he can use his hands, he was able to use the touch screen to move about with the iPad.

The fact that Owen was able to operate this device was a huge step for the family. He was able to push buttons, change screens and do other moves with the iPad. For people with disabilities, the features on the latest devices, like the iPad are “game changers”. Owen is able to turn the pages in a book on his own, for the first time.

With the potential to advance his learning abilities, devices like the iPad prove to be crucial. The abilities they give to people with special needs may soon prove to be endless.

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Sources for Support in Teaching Students with Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy is disorder that can affect various systems in the body.   It may make it difficult for a student to move, hear, see, and think.  For the student, this condition makes it difficult to participate or directly affect the ability to learn.  Students may also frequently be out of class due to doctor’s appointments for treatments, speech therapists to assist in building communication skills, or even physical therapists to help the students to exercise, stretch, and strengthen and move muscles.  The teacher needs to have a basic understanding of cerebral palsy in order to best serve any students with this disorder.  It also important to work together along with the student, parents, doctors, therapists, and other special education professionals to help the student to achieve learning and social goals.


Classroom Layout & Student Socialization has a great resource for teachers and parents to help prepare a student with cerebral palsy for school.  Most likely, the classroom layout may need to be changed in order to make it easily accessible for the student.  Aisles and desks may need to be separated further apart and computer center will need adaptations like having raised desks for a wheel chair to fit under, voice activated computer systems, or the use of switches.

Teachers should also prepare the other students to help them to understand the condition of the student with cerebral palsy.  This should be done with the approval or even assistance from the parents.  However, it should also be recognized that the student should be included and treated as a normal student – just with accommodations.

This site also has links to other sites to assist teachers in preparing or planning lessons for students with cerebral palsy.

Tech Tools for CP

eHow also has a great article about helping students with Cerebral Palsy.  They support the ideas that I have read in many articles on this subject. They all stress the use of assistive technology – laptops, switches, specialty keyboards, or even pencil grips.  They also stress the importance of working as a team with the other specialists, administration, parents, doctors, and teachers to help the student to work to achieve academic success in the least-restrictive environment.  Lastly, they also stress the importance that even though the student many look different or may have difficulty communicating, it doesn’t mean that the student is any less intelligent than other students.

Videos Incorporating Technology with Students with Cerebral Palsy

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By Extra Ketchup

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October School Technology Mashup

Here are the top three resources that I have learned about this month that can help teachers in educating students with special needs.



This week Proloquo2Go is in the top twenty five applications for use with iPhones, iPads, and iPods.  This fee-based mobile program is a full-featured application for communication.  It has text-to-speech ability, along with symbols, conjugations, and thousands of vocabulary words.  It is very easy to use with a simple tap of the screen.  The student taps the picture that represents what they want to say.  The device will then say what was selected.  Students can also type in their own messages and have them spoken.  There are larger sized keys which will help all users.

There is a section to store recent and most frequently used commands or features of the program.  This makes it easy for retrieval by the user.  This application can revolutionize the ability for students to gain their independence if they have difficulty communicating in the classroom and beyond.    There are great videos on YouTube that show how the program can be used and also  teachers showing how their students use it in the classroom.  It is definitely a very cool program worth checking out!


Evernote is a program that students can use to capture all of what they are learning in the classroom.  Students can upload class notes, pictures, or web pages to Evernote.   The information will automatically be organized and tagged so it will be easy to search through at home.  Students can upload their class notes to Evernote in order to keep them organized and in an easy location to study from.  Students could take pictures of field trips, labs, or even the whiteboard and use the material later to complete an assignment or study for a test.  They can also keep clips of web pages that they will use to write a research paper or to complete a project.  This program is great for students with disabilities as it will organize that material automatically based on the content.   It can also be accessed from any device that has Internet like a laptop, cell phone, or iPad.

National Geography Xpeditions

This is an oldie but goodie site with lessons and activities for incorporating geography into your classroom.  This site is sponsored by National Geography and Thinkfinity.  This site is standards-based, high-interest and adaptable for different student levels and age groups.  Many of the activities are hands-on and incorporate animations and high-quality pictures from the actual geographic region.   One activity I completed was in the Xpedition Hall.  The activity was learning about how the brain maps data differently  in a child compared to an adult.  This would be a great activity to teach mapping skills for middle school students who are in the middle of making that transition from child to adult.  Many of the lessons incorporate activities that can be used as cross-curriculum assignments with reading, writing, and even math.

Do you have any great sites or apps that you have come across this month?  Please feel free to comment and share your best classroom tech resources!

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By edenpictures

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4 Reading Tips for Students from a Real Author

Rick Riordan, author of novels about Percy Jackson, an ADHD and dyslexic character and father to an ADHD and dyslexic son, has a lot of experience working with students with learning disabilities.


Rick has turned his story into a five-book series. From all that he has learned from his writings and his experiences with his own son who deals with learning disabilities, Rick has come up with four important tips about helping students with learning disabilities with reading.

Model reading at home

Since children look up to their parents in many things they do, it is important that they set a good example about reading while they are in their homes. If parents can set aside a time where they dedicate to reading, either to their children, or with their children, kids will see that reading is an important thing to do and can be fun, especially with the whole family. It can also be the starting point for great discussions or talks.

Match your children with the right books

Each child has their own set of interests and hobbies. It is important to let them pick and choose the types of reading material they want to read. By taking note on what they are interested in, you can discover new reading material that will keep your kids engaged and interested in reading.

Create a productive environment for reading

While children are reading, they should be focused on the task at hand. Many children with ADHD and other learning disabilities can focus better when there are fewer distractions, but a simple object, like a stress ball or eraser. It is also important to help them find a comfortable spot, like on a sofa or in the backyard where they can enjoy the area around them.

Most importantly, keep the long view

Having learning disabilities may bring up some obstacles, but should not shut down any dreams or goals for students with them. There are so many examples of very successful people with ADHD and dyslexia, among other disabilities. Staying focused and continuing reading can help these students learn and grow!

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Therapeutic Toys for Children with Autism

Children who have been diagnosed with autism have difficulty appropriately displaying their emotions, interacting with other children and adults, and expressing their feelings.  Having structured play time with therapeutic toys can help children with autism to learn to overcome these deficits.  There are many websites that offer different types of therapeutic toys to be used for this purpose.  These would be great additions to the pre-kindergarten and elementary level special education classrooms.   Many of these different toys are eligible items to be included in various grant funded opportunities for special education students.


KidScope Toys

KidScope Toys sells toys for students with autism.   They have toys that help with educational goals, therapy goals, and general toys for children with autism.  Some of the toys help the children build both fine and gross motor skills, and some of the toys help to build play skills.  The specific toys that help children to express their emotions are included under the category of social skills, emotional regulation, and language and communication.

The toys in these categories help the students to communicate their feelings through play.  The social skills toys include dolls that can interact with the child and books about social skills that students can read with a parent or teacher.  The language and communication toys include toys like interactive calendars, books on feelings, reward and responsibility charts, and a play tea set.  The play tea set is a great toy for children with autism to play with to learn skills like sharing, asking questions, and responding in a non-threatening environment.  The emotional regulation toys include tactile toys like stuffed animals, timers, small playground style toys.  One toy that I found particularly interesting was a small hand-held textured (and colorful) twisting toy.  This is a toy that a child with autism could use to help them to work through anxiety and difficult social situations.

Step Forward 123

On the website for Step Forward 123, they offer many different toys that help students to build motor and social skills.  One of the most popular products that this site offers is therapy balls.  The balls come in various sizes and help children to learn balance and coordinator, as well as being able to work with the different colors and textures.  The children’s play sets by this include colorful sets of foam blocks that can be arranged into different ways.  Children can role play while learning social skills and interacting with other students in a non-threatening way.

Special Needs Toys

Special Needs Toys has toys for children with a variety of disabilities.  All of the toys would be helpful for children with autistic, especially toys in the sections about communication and socialization.   The toys in the communication section ranges widely from toys that are used for speech therapy to art and music kits that allow children to express their feels through sound and color.  There are also magnetic communication kits that involve a series of emotions, home activities, facial expressions, and behavior magnets.  The socialization toys include games where the child would interact with other children or adults in a play-based manner.  There are also dolls and stuffed animals that can be used with the child to play and display appropriate behaviors from a toy that will not judge the child.  The last set of toys in this section are tactile toys to increase the child’s sensory responses.

All of these toys would make great additions to the elementary special education classroom.  These tools are often used at home and in therapy sessions outside of school and would bridge the gap between these experiences and school.

Article by Laura Ketcham

Picture By EvelynGiggles

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