STEM Education and Children With Special Needs

STEM education that’s driven by a learner-centered instruction can be used to provide students with a powerful educational program. In order for students to be successful, however, they must find ways to thrive in active, hands-on learning environments; this is especially true for students with learning disabilities. That’s because these students often have problems and illnesses that cause them to be discriminated against by educators. Nevertheless, there are ways students with special needs can be successful in both STEM and STEAM fields. When it comes to STEAM education, the “A” stands for Art: It is designed to integrate the fine arts, humanities, and sciences into everyday learning.

Think positive, be eager to learn, and work hard — this is what describes students. To make sure students like this experience success in the STEAM field, however, they must have a certain level of support. From who? From everyone, they come in contact with. Although STEAM education naturally provides support for students, it helps to have support outside the classroom from close family and friends. This is what encourages students to keep trying and motivates them to not give up. So, how do STEAM classes naturally provide support for students? By allowing the following to students:

  • Constant Movement: STEAM education is a field that thrives on constant movement to help solve real-life problems — meaning that opportunities for purposeful movement are needed in order to help students understand how the two-work hand-in-hand.
  • Less Class Time: STEAM education courses are not shorter than traditional classes. They are, however, operated on a stop-and-start basis as students’ progress in their engineering design courses. This allows kids – particularly ones with special needs – to take breaks so they can process what they’ve just learned.
  • Respectful Environment: STEAM classes, like most, are safe places. This means that if a team fails to create a possible solution to a particular problem, it’s no big deal. Team members will ideally show respect towards one another and respect the group’s decisions.

How can STEAM teachers prepare to teach students with special needs? Well, there are a number of factors that go into the process. First, teachers must build off of students’ strengths. This will not only increase their comfort level, it will also keep them motivated throughout the curriculum. The second thing education officials must do is use technology to their advantage. That’s because technology is the one tool that has the ability to support students with special needs, which is especially true if students have hearing or visual loss. It also allows teachers to provide digital handouts for students to access in case they forget the instructions. Lastly, teachers must be alert and focus on safety when students are using equipment for problem-solving purposes. Keeping these things in mind will help teachers foster a learning environment that students can thrive in, regardless of their disabilities.

The Challenges

Generally speaking, parents with a special needs child think a lot about what will happen to their child once they reach adulthood. They focus on preparing their child for the future and do everything possible to set them up for success financially, socially, and emotionally. If you’re working with students with special needs, then you’ll want to approach them with high expectations — goals that can be obtained in a reasonable amount of time. Remember, you’ll encounter plenty of challenges. Some students, for example, might not understand science and technology content so well. Others, however, might understand it so well that they can teach their loved ones about cybercrimes and ransomware. The point is, how you pace the lesson can impact how students retain the information. Some students might prefer to work alone, and some might prefer to work in groups.

Noise can also be a challenge since it can distract and annoy students. Not all distractions, however, come from students. In other words, if there are too many things on the walls or too many objects around the room, students might get distracted. Social expectations are other things that can distract and even prevent a student with special needs from learning. So, what can instructors do in these cases?

The answer is simple: Get to know your students who have learning disabilities and special needs. Work together with a colleague or mentor to learn as much as you can. That way, you’ll know their strengths and their weaknesses. This will also help you find ways to make reasonable accommodations. For instance, instead of conducting a lecture, you might bring in a video game to help students make the connection between concepts. By getting hands-on with the material, students are not only more likely to understand the lesson but also to take it seriously. Whichever route you decide to take, it’s important to remember that your special education colleagues will be your most valuable resource throughout the planning process.

The best part about STEAM education is that it gives students (regardless of their disability), access to real-world learning experiences. By providing STEAM education for special needs students, they’ll also be more geared up for the challenges that await them outside the classroom environment, which is the point of education. In the end, this can help students adapt to their environment and prepare for a future society where they can encounter all different kinds of people.

Let us know what you think

Thanks for the read! Did I miss anything important? What are some other ways parents and teachers can help students with special needs learn more about STEAM education? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Herman Davis is passionate about K-12 education and loves exploring different ways to make learning a fun experience. If you can’t catch him online, you might be able to find him at the gym, or watching football (Go Broncos!).


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