How Technology Can Help Students With Special Needs Learn by Amanda Winstead

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How Technology Can Help Students With Special Needs Learn by Amanda Winstead offers excellent advice for special education teachers and the parents of special children. Students with special needs may face a host of challenges in their daily lives, but technology can help to level the playing field in the classroom.


  • The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on schools and universities worldwide. To protect students, teachers, and families, physical campuses were forced to shutter their doors and take the learning remote. And, in so doing, we have learned a powerful lesson about the extraordinary power of technology in education. However, technology’s role in the classroom did not begin with the pandemic, nor will it end there. For students with special needs, technology can be a particularly important tool for learning. This article examines some of the most significant ways technology is helping students with special needs thrive.

Enhancing Communication

  • For children who are nonverbal or who may have difficulty producing or processing spoken language, assistive technologies featuring text-to-speech capabilities can enable students to find a voice in the classroom.
  • Similarly, technologies are available which not only offer closed captioning on class videos for students who are deaf or hearing impaired, but which can also caption words spoken in the classroom itself. And for students with visual impairments, screen readers and Braille-to-text technologies enable students to work with class materials and complete assignments with a large degree of independence.
  • Through these technologies, students gain the power to communicate more freely with teachers and peers and to participate in the learning process with minimal assistance, an empowering process for children who, in all likelihood, are eager to learn and be “just like” their peers in the inclusive classroom.

Alternative Learning Activities

  • Students who are neurodiverse or who may have been diagnosed with behavioral or learning challenges are likely to benefit from learning activities that are highly interactive and deeply engaging. Smartphone apps such as Kahoot, TinyTap, and Quizlet can turn dry content into a fun game, and that can mean all the difference for a student whose attention may easily wander from their textbook readings or a standard lecture.
  • Computer-based interactive learning activities are also ideal for motivating students by connecting the learning material to something real, concrete and meaningful to them. For example, a student who has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be challenged with language and written text but might be exceptionally gifted in an area of science or technology.
  • In such cases, an “authentic work” approach could be used to challenge the student to learn computer-based 3D modeling to create, a replica of the Parthenon or design a new type of aircraft or ship, which could then be printed on a 3D printer. This would enable the student to apply high-level mathematical and technological concepts, even as they master important lessons from history and science, and to do so in a manner that is far more relevant, accessible, and empowering to the student than traditional print-based methods might be.

Remote Learning

  • Remote learning isn’t just an inevitable byproduct of the pandemic era. For many special needs students, it can be the healthiest and safest way to “be” in class. Remote learning technologies are increasingly enabling students with significant health concerns to connect in real-time with their classmates, to experience some or all of a typical day of class with their peers, without ever leaving home.
  • Indeed, new “telepresence” technologies are emerging to allow students not only to see, hear, and speak in class, but also to “move around” it in the form of a physical robotic avatar the student controls remotely. While this technology is still largely in the developmental phase, it’s showing tremendous promise in simulating a “real” in-class experience, helping to break the boundaries between the home-based student and their peers and teachers on campus.
  • However, telepresence is only one of the many capabilities that technology in the K-12 classroom is providing for students, families, and educators alike. In fact, as the influence of the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to increase in the connected classroom, parents, pupils, and teachers are better able than ever before to tailor the learning environment and process to students’ individual needs, while at the same time improving the efficacy of teaching practices. The IoT-infused classroom allows flexibility, enhanced communication, and more effective monitoring of students’ needs and progress, wherever the student may be. And for students with special needs, that can mean all the difference in the world for their academic success!

Improved Monitoring

  • One of the most significant benefits of technology for students with special needs is that it enhances the teacher’s ability not only to monitor the student’s progress but also to engage with the student and their parents when needed. For example, software such as the Online Staff Performance Management System creates visual representations of student performance, creating digital charts and graphs that allow teachers to efficiently and accurately assess how students are faring, where they excel, and where they may need additional assistance. These graphics can also be easily shared with parents and administrators, fostering more cohesive, effective, and individualized learning support tailored to the child’s evolving needs.

Using Caution

  • As profound as the benefits of technology are for students with special needs, it is critical that parents and educators alike take precautions. Educational computer games are superb for driving student motivation, engagement, and learning, but children must also be taught online safety strategies and should still be closely monitored when online.
  • As an added layer of protection, parents and educators should install security software for any educational and recreational purposes, from VPNs to firewalls to anti-spy software that shields children’s data from prying eyes and, above all, insulates them from the bad actors who may be too readily found online.

The Takeaway

  • Students with special needs may face a host of challenges in their daily lives, but technology can help to level the playing field in the classroom. From assistive communication to remote learning to interactive gaming, technology is a vital tool to help students with special needs harness the power and the joy of learning.

Amanda Winstead

  • Amanda is a freelance writer out of Portland focusing on many topics including educational technology. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.
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