6 Myths About Special Education Teachers

6 Myths About Special Education Teachers

Teaching is a tough job. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I know we have all heard the stories of incredulous family and friends that regale, “but you get paid during vacation…” “You only have to work part of the year…”

So many truly believe that teachers are overpaid.

If you are a teacher, you have met these people.

And if you are a special education teacher, these comments are exacerbated. “You don’t even teach…” “How do you teach special ed? It’s not science or math or anything…” “All you have to do is take the ones that get out of control and contain them…”

Although harsh, I have heard all of these first hand. It’s unfair that these assumptions surpass the actual time, dedication, and pride that teachers put into their classroom. They spend countless hours setting up a classroom that is bound to be destroyed after the first meltdown. Tirelessly, these teachers replace broken and ripped materials, analyze what went wrong, and try to fix things for the future. As special education teachers, we know that no matter how prepared we can be, we cannot account for the natural ups and downs that each and every new day can bring.

Today I want to dispel 6 myths about special education teachers.

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5 Benefits of a Calm Down Space in the Special Ed Classroom

5 Benefits of a Calm Down Space in the Special Ed Classroom

Having a calm down space is crucial in your special education classroom. Students with autism will, at times, get upset, angry, or frustrated by their environment. It is imperative that you have a place for your students to go when they feel their engine running high.

Some call it a “time-out”, “reflection space”, or “chill zone”, but no matter what it is, you need one.

A calm down space can be the intermediary that helps a student acknowledge their frustrations, but stops them before they can escalate.

The space is preferably small, with soft, natural materials that a student can snuggle up in and receive deep pressure from. This space works best when it is devoid of sensory stimulation. This means finding a less trafficked area of the classroom with reduced lighting and noise cancelling headphones.

A calm down space has many benefits, let’s start by discussing 5.

1. Ensure Safety

School should be a place where students are safe. A calm down space should be utilized when a student is getting upset, but before they become too unsafe to remain in the classroom.

It is your job to sense this tipping point and ensure the safety of all students.

A calm down space is a classroom management tool that allows you to maintain and control the safety of all students. An upset student gets a chance to cool off in a separate space, maintaining the safety of both the upset students and their peers.

7 Easy Ways to Foster a Growth Mindset

7 Easy Ways to Foster a Growth Mindset

By now, you have probably heard of a GROWTH MINDSET. It is the understanding that one can achieve self-actualization and personal growth when their mind set is open to learning from new opportunities, and others’ around them. It is a willingness to observe the world around you and appreciate the gifts as much as the misgivings. A growth mindset is a way to view the world as a set of endless opportunities if you are only open to accepting them.

When a student has a growth mindset they are positive, encouraging and see challenges as small hills they are capable of conquering.

On the other hand, a student with a fixed mindset appears scared, unsure, and believes that they are incapable of glorious achievement.

Harnessing the power of a growth mindset is not easy. Students with disabilities are frequently the face of ridicule or isolation, which may result in feelings of inadequacy, incompetency or despair. Fostering a growth mindset in students that have been the victim of bullying may take a while, as you will have to overcome the barrier of a lack of self-esteem first.


It is not impossible!

A growth mindset is an achievable goal for any student.

1.       Use Strengths

Plan activities and class lessons that will demonstrate a student’s competence. Use their natural abilities and talents to show their understanding or mastery of a topic.

Increasing Situational Intelligence in 4 Easy Steps

Increasing Situational Intelligence in 4 Easy Steps

Many students with autism struggle with situational intelligence. This is the ability to scan a room or situation, analyze and understand what is going on. You may have had the student that bursts into a classroom and loudly announces that they have arrived. Or you may have the student that inappropriately interrupts your teaching to declare what they have brought for snack.

These students have difficulty with situational awareness.  

They lack the ability to enter a situation, analyze it, and respond appropriately. For most students, situational awareness is easier. These students can walk into the classroom and seamlessly acclimate themselves into a new environment. The process of scanning, analyzing, and adapting to the situation may take only a few seconds for these students. In fact, these students are most likely scanning and analyzing as they walk into the situation, constantly assessing and reassessing the objects and people in the room as they navigate it. But, for your students with autism, this process may take much longer or they may not be able to adapt to the situation at all. For some of your more rigid students, a new situation or environment may cause overwhelm, and in some cases, meltdowns.

So, what can be done?

What strategies can we teach our students to increase situational intelligence?

The STOP model is an easy 4-step process for teaching students strategies for increasing situational intelligence.

#WIWMTU Moe's Story

I Wish My Teachers Had Patience.

I grew up knowing I was always different. Looking back on my younger life I can pick out specific behaviors I’ve carried to this day.

Isolated and separated from everyone else, I lived in my own world. I was someone else in my own fantasy world. I never interacted with others as I was bullied and pushed out of groups. So I was very isolated as a kid. The school was particularly tough. In my days in infant and junior school, I had one or two friends that’s all. Never involved in a group or gang of kids.

"Clumsy" and "slow" was another name for me. I was clumsy yes, could never catch a ball, horrible at sports in comparison to other children so I was less favored and pushed aside. My dad tried to teach me to ride a bike, but I kept falling off. He didn’t know why. My dad explained to my doctor the problems I had but the doctor’s response was “some kids are just clumsy”.

I had such a bad attention span in school that I got into trouble due to poor recollection and lack of understanding. “Why don’t you understand?” “Didn’t I already tell you…?”. Teachers are not very nice when it comes to children who are different. It’s a bit obvious they favored the more able children than those who required more support. Maybe teachers never knew how to support different children.

Supplemental support was never great. It just came and went and my struggles continued.

I understand that subjects must be taught at school. But the fact that there were so many and I had to move from one class to another didn’t do me any favors. The fact that I had no dedicated seating place, the fact that I did not have an education plan that was customized to me personally was difficult. Everything was accustomed for other pupils so we were put in the same boat if you will. This was the element of change. Change is something that I struggle with. It could be in routines, seating places, surroundings etc. The fact that everything changes in school day in day out took a toll.

I struggled through infants, juniors and secondary school. Don’t even get me started with the secondary school as they were the worst years of my life, literally. Me and my brother being the only two ethnics students in the school and as someone who was different I felt so alone and I was teased and bullied on a daily basis. I lost count a number of times someone called me a paki in school. I just had to accept that insult and carry on with schooling. Teachers never did anything to stop the name calling. Makes me think if the teachers were also bigots.

In terms of disability, as far as everyone else was concerned I had no disability. I was just slow, incoherent and clumsy.

Once I had the diagnosis of Asperger’s it was a relief to know that I’m not incoherent, just different. Everything fell into place and I now know why I am the way I am. I’ve gone back into education part time and I’m doing much better because I have discovered good teaching methods that support my cognition.

Looking back on schooling the number one thing I wish all of my teachers have is patience. That’s My number one on the list. To be a good teacher you must have patience. You can’t get aggressive with those children who don’t get things. Sometimes teachers must stop, take a breath and alter their approach. That’s it. But I know that’s a lot to ask for.

Number two on my list is for the teacher to seek alternative teaching methods. For example, breaking the subject up into smaller chunks and engaging with some type of practical activity. Visual aids or video teaching would have greatly helped me personally. People on the autism spectrum are glued to the TV so in my own personal view teaching subjects should also be in a form of video format. It allows us to rewind if we miss something, you can’t do that in real life?

The Khan Academy is a milestone nowadays and I just wish this was available in my younger years.

Thirdly, teachers must show students how to learn. I didn’t know how to learn so I struggled. I only discovered mind mapping and visual learning in my 30s and it did wonders for me. So to any teacher who is teaching someone with a disability or someone who’s different I’d say teach your students how to learn.

Fourth, have sympathy for those who struggle. There is an underlying reason why we cannot register and interpret things.

Fifth, encourage us and say we can do things. Just done yell it out aggressively. By tearing someone down your only degrading them and they will end up feeling helpless. Encourage with a can do attitude. Encouragement and support always help us. We’ll make the extra effort and it’ll put a smile on our faces.

Sixth, allow us to take time out. Breaks can help absorb information and also helps us to combat mental health issues.

Seventh, nowadays encourage the use of assistive technology like text to speech to improve our written communication. I find reading text is difficult so having a computer say it back to me really helps.

Lastly, appointed mentor. A teacher is not the real mentor. It’ll have to be someone else who will act as a voice and supporter. Someone who’ll be the person in the middle. Someone who is inclined to listen and go the extra mile to help, seek and resource information for the student.

A mentor who’ll never yell or scream at the student but just be there for full support.

So to offer good experiences in teaching someone with a disability in particular Asperger’s my top tips would be:


Alternative teaching methods

Teach how to learn



Allow for time out

Encourage use of assistive software

Allow for a mentor

To finish off I’m not sure if this is a tip but network with other professionals. I don’t want to restrict the networking with other teachers but branch out and network with business professionals who have employees on the autism spectrum. Network with adults on the autism spectrum and listen to experiences and listen to what helps them. Also, don’t forget there are great charities out there who can offer support. Go to meetings arranged by charities who’ll have professional speakers and those on the spectrum. Some of the information and advice would be highly beneficial.

#WIWMTU Sara's Story

I wish my teachers had known that I wasn't refusing to cooperate.

The first time that the fact that I am not always able to talk when I'm supposed to caused me trouble was in fourth grade. I was generally known as being a very shy kid, and up to then teachers hadn't really bothered trying to get me to answer questions in class, but this one did. He tried waiting, repeating the question, and asking easier questions instead, but nothing worked. I had hundreds of possible answers in my head, but they just didn't come out. As if this wasn't weighing me down enough already, the teacher had developed a real ambition to help me with my problem along the way, becoming increasingly frustrated himself as his methods failed.The shy kid theory was soon abandoned, and I became the really stubborn kid that deliberately refused to cooperate. 

I continued to have difficulties with talking on and off until today. Sometimes it is just a single question I have to leave unanswered, but it also happened that I wasn't able to say a word in a certain environment, such as school, for hours, weeks or months. Sometimes I did get away with just being shy, but I've also made people look strange or be angry. I've explained a million times (at least that's how it feels) to teachers that if I didn't talk, it was because I wasn't able to, but somehow they usually found the option that I was deliberately boycotting their authority more plausible. 

It was upsetting to be branded as a difficult kid, to be made responsible for behavior I was not able to influence although I tried so hard. Not being understood and being called a liar when I tried to explain. By the time I was a teenager I was so tired of trying that I decided to take over their narrative. Instead of trying to explain myself I started throwing accusations. 

It was a downward spiral that would certainly have ended badly if it wasn't for some teachers who still believed in me. Although I wouldn't get diagnosed with autism until much later, they saw through my frustration turned aggression, and understood how much I was struggling. They couldn't really convince the whole team, and where probably called naive by those teachers claiming I had bad intentions. And although they couldn't give me any real solutions either, they listened to me, and believed my problems were real. Those teachers made me feel less alone, and in the end, they are the ones that gave me the power to survive the school system. 

But yes, I wish the others would have known this too. I wish they would have known that if they would have given me some time and a quiet place, a pen and a piece of paper, or in some cases both, communication wouldn't be so problematic. I wasn't trying to harm them. The whole situation was as unsettling to me as it was to them. I wasn't fighting them, and I wish they wouldn't have fought me, as I had enough other battles to fight. And yes, this story is also a plea for the kind of openness that is sometimes called naivety, for looking behind the difficult behavior, for accepting and reassuring, even if you don't understand. As those are the things that kept me going until, just a couple of years ago, I was able to get a diagnosis. 

I have grown up to become a happy autistic adult. I have a job I love, and lots of side projects. I've come across people who have kindly shared parts of their lives and their social networks with me. Not out of pity, but out of genuine interest. The teachers that helped me were right, holding through was totally worth it, and I am still grateful to them for their support.

#WIWMTU Srinivas' Story

Srinivas' story shows us that schooling does not stop when you leave high school. 

What I Wish My Teachers Understood About Autism is an Autism Acceptance Project. If you are autistic or a parent of a child with autism and would like to contribute, please contact me at theautismquilt@gmail.com for more info.

What I Wish My Teachers Understood is that learning never stops.

Pista muffins, mango blondies, cheese wraps, and wheat bread are just some of the mouth-watering treats being produced at this neighborhood initiative that gives adults with special needs an opportunity to harness their skills, socialize with each other and the community at large, and feel like they are productive members of society.

When we talk about people with special needs, there are many organizations that provide early intervention and cater to the needs of learning-disabled children. But what happens after these children are grown adults?

This is where Sai Bakery comes into the picture. It is not just a regular bakery but it’s a place where adults with learning disabilities can come, work, learn, and spend a respectable and productive day.

Sai Bakery employs adults with developmental disabilities (cerebal palsy, mental retardation, autism and multiple disabilities). Each special person’s skills are assessed and the jobs distributed accordingly. Training is provided in the areas of baking and packaging and marketing.

“As a child with special needs grows, his or her family too is growing old. The parents have less stamina to take care of the growing child/adult. There are very few organisations that are working with adults with special needs,” says Sumithra Prasad, founder of Sai Bakery.

The idea about starting a bakery came from Sumithra’s son Srinivasan who has Asperger’s syndrome. After he finished Class 12, he just went to Sumithra and said, “I want to bake. I want to start a bakery. I will get my friends and we’ll do it together.”

Sumithra welcomed her son’s idea and enthusiasm to do something. She helped him get some training to learn the basics of running a bakery. And, in September 2013, Sai Bakery opened its doors.

Sai Bakery, which works with the support of the DORAI (Development Opportunities Resources Access Insight) Foundation, not only engages adults in baking but also provides them access to various activities like music, yoga, terrace gardening, etc. The products from the bakery are also delivered to corporate events in bulk.

“We are not a regular bakery. We make products when we get orders and deliver them fresh. Our aim is not to earn profits but to empower and give a sense of respect and individuality to these adults who have been often ignored even by their own families,” says Sumithra.

Sumithra has personally witnessed the impact on some of the lives of these adults with special needs working at the bakery.

Earlier, Shameena would not even go to the toilet alone; she was always accompanied by her mother. Today, she travels all by herself from her house to the bakery everyday, an incredible and positive achievement. She has taken over the packing of pastries in their boxes.

Once a shy boy, Anand would barely speak to anyone. But today, he sings and dances with his friends from the bakery. Similarly, there is Srinivasan who has become good at mixing and blending the dough.

Though a monthly stipend is given to these adults for coming to the bakery, it is the emotional and psychological support they get that matters.

“Many times, even families don’t take these adults seriously. Someone once said about their disabled daughter, ‘What will happen even if we teach her? She is not going to work anyway.’ This attitude needs to be changed. Respect and individuality are very important,” says Sumithra.

Sumithra adds that the attitude of parents towards their own children with disabilities has been the biggest challenge she has had to overcome. Sometimes, the families are not even ready to pay for the transport of their children, even though all the other facilities at Sai Bakery are free.

But thanks to Sumithra’s determination, she has been able to create ripples of change in the lives of many such adults. She has also inspired four to five similar bakery initiatives in different parts of the country.

In the future, Sumithra wants to reach out to more people who are willing to start similar initiatives and enable more people with learning disabilities to become empowered. Even if there are three people with disabilities who need help, she says, Sai Bakery will help them set up the entire system.

To order tasty treats from the bakery or to know more about their work, contact Sumithra Prasad at –  doraifoundation@gmail.com and check out their Facebook page.

This post was originally posted at http://www.thebetterindia.com/22773/sai-bakery-chennai-adults-with-special-needs/