Online education is rapidly becoming the norm. Many colleges have entire departments that teach their entire curriculum online, and more departments are assimilating every year. Even public education is beginning to turn to a virtual environment to help better educate their students. Smaller schools have found that partnering with virtual schools allows them to offer a wider range of subjects, allowing students to fully explore their education interests. But what about online education for special needs students?
No matter what learning disability or handicap a special needs student has, one thing is generally true: they need more personal assistance to reach their educational goals, and they typically need different forms of input. While in the past it would have been impossible for a special needs child to thrive in an online classroom due to the limited interaction and material delivery options, new innovations make this a more plausible scenario.
Online teachers used to be limited by forum threads and text downloads of lessons. Now, however, teachers can use a webcam or group audio chat to discuss lessons with students, either individually or in a group. Video lectures can be recorded and uploaded for students to watch, or a teacher can perform a hands-on learning task for students to emulate when they have time.
One of the nice things about online testing is that it is very friendly to special needs children. Programs can be installed that will read test questions to the children as they are ready to take them. Typing is an appropriate option for children who have difficulty with the fine motor skills required for legible penmanship. When taking a reading comprehension test, the student could highlight passages from the text when asked for supporting details instead of having to rewrite the information in a separate answer. Math tests could use interactive graphics programs to show plotting or angles when students enter equations to help them visually check their answers.
Currently, there are several excellent online environments being used to teach special needs children. However, there is a lot of room for growth in this field, and many children will still be more comfortable with one on one help in a physical environment. If a special needs child does have an online classroom, it will be very important for the teacher to be in frequent communication with the child and the person overseeing the child’s education on site until the child is fully comfortable with the online environment.
Have you used an online education platform to subsidize a special needs child’s education or for the entire curriculum? What advice would you give other educators and parents to help make this type of online environment work for a special needs child?