About Mary McLaughlin

Mary has always loved learning, but was a struggling learner who couldn’t read until one day, the right teacher came along with the right methodology, and everything clicked for Mary. Understanding the struggles of children who just “don’t get it,” Mary has spent her career supporting children with learning difficulties and finding ways to excite them about education. Over her career, Mary has taught Second Grade, Third Grade, and served as a Middle School Administrator in Michigan, most often in the urban setting. In 2015, Mary relocated to Arkansas in search of new opportunities and is excited at all that has been placed before her. She currently teaches Special Education in a self-contained setting for children in grades 2-4.

How to Overcome Challenges in the Classroom As A Special Education Teacher

Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Special Education Teacher; M.S. SpEd

Teaching is a stressful profession by nature, but it is even more so in the field of special education. Working with special needs students is a challenging situation even for those teachers with a lot of academic and real-life preparation.

High Attrition Rate

High-stress professions are plagued by high burn-out rates, and educators are not exempt from this situation. Teachers who deal directly with the special needs population face situations that challenge their confidence, self-control and personal choices, including that of choosing to go into teaching. The attrition rate in this field is remarkably high compared to other professions. About 50 percent of teachers in special education settings leave their positions in five years. Another 50 percent of those who persevere through the challenges of being a special education teacher during the first five years of their careers will find themselves seeking employment elsewhere in the next 10 years. Both of these factors support the fact that the turnover rate every 10 years is about 75 percent for special education teachers based on a study published in the International Journal of Special Education. Compared to general education teachers, special education teachers are twice as likely to leave the profession based on annual attrition rates.

Identifying the Stressors

Heavy workloads can be a drag on teachers’ time and resources. However, in the case of special education teachers, the emotional aspect contributes to high turnovers in a job that is mentally and physically demanding. Finding a positive, healthy outlet for stress is a key element in relieving the less than positive aspects of a trying career as a special education teacher. Often exercise and creative pursuits (like painting, writing, reading, etc.) are great for helping alleviate stress. Talking with other professionals – like colleagues or even therapists – also helps. Sometimes even taking a “mental health” day or even hour is good at keeping stress under control. And as hard as it may seem, staying positive and in the moment is perhaps a special education teacher’s greatest means of keeping stress at bay.

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Achievement Testing

For students who do not take the same assessment as their grademates, in many cases they take their state’s alternate assessment. It assesses the same standards of the grade level but at a very basic level. Special needs students cannot be assessed on the same standards as traditional students, and special education teachers should not be held to the same measure either. These teachers, as are all teachers, are operating on overdrive to cope with the demands of the children they teach and the system should reward these efforts rather than marginalize them.

Different Skill Levels within a Classroom

In an integrated classroom, special needs students receive extra support through paraprofessionals or teaching assistants who are assigned to the classroom. In a special education classroom, the children will have different capabilities and disabilities. The teacher is expected to create an environment that is conducive to learning and is supportive of all students regardless of their skills and mobility level. Each student has an individual education plan or IEP as required by federal laws. Special education teachers must follow the requirements outlined in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) regardless of the classroom format.

Managing Children with Behavioral Issues

Children with special abilities require sensitive yet firm attention. They are prone to overstimulation and are easily upset over stressors that would be minor annoyances to other children. Make sure to have a calm-down area in the classroom. This section should provide a safe yet comforting atmosphere to allow students to find their balance. It should not seem like a time-out corner but rather one that is cozy and peaceful. This way, teachers can carry on with the rest of the class even in the face of distractions.

Documenting the Issues

Children react differently to different circumstances. Special needs children express anger, sadness, joy and other emotions just as well as other children although the triggers may be less obvious. It is important to document these instances judiciously to understand the factors that may trigger aggression and emotional breakdowns. These records may also be useful to counselors and parents.

Consistent Schedules

Various studies have shown that special needs children thrive in an environment that respects their patterns and need for consistency. A minor change in the pattern of activities can be upsetting to special students. Make sure to create classroom schedules ahead of time and maintain a pattern of activities that children can easily get used to while ensuring a calm atmosphere.

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Parent Engagement

Communication channels between parents and teachers of students with special needs and abilities should be open, honest and supportive at all times. Communicate by phone, email or written notes to provide parents with an update on their child’s progress or an insight into the child’s behavior patterns. Encourage parents to keep teachers informed about any factors that may be affecting their child’s temperaments.

Fostering a Collaborative Environment

Special education teachers are at the front line of a very trying function: educating and nurturing children who have disabilities. This is a task that requires patience, persistence and dedication. Make the most of available resources, including tapping into the expertise of general education teachers, therapists, counselors and administrative support. Collaboration generates creative solutions while lightening the burden on special education teachers.

The Top 30 Best Accessible Playgrounds Around the World

Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Special Education Teacher; M.S. SpEd


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All children deserve to experience the thrill and escapism of meaningful physical play. What’s more, it just takes a bit of thought and planning, and everyone can enjoy the exhilaration and magic that arguably only playgrounds can produce. Of course, more than anything it’s about social interaction – and in this respect no child should be left on the sidelines.

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Top 10 Free Classes Available Online For Special Education Teachers And Parents of Special Needs Children

Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Special Education Teacher; M.S. SpEd

freeclassesSpecial education, also referred to as special needs education, focuses on addressing the needs of children who experience a range of difficulties in learning, communicating, and managing their own emotions and behavior. They may also be facing challenges associated with physical disabilities, sensory impairments and development disorders.

Learning Strategies for Special Education

It’s imperative for parents, guardians, caretakers, teachers, and trainers to find both effective strategies and useful resources to help these students to do well in life. Moreover, the field of special education is far from static, new research and new laws change perspective. While a day-to-day common sense approach does help children with special needs, research-based strategies have proven time and again to be extremely effective. For this reason advanced training and certification is recommended for professional teachers.

Legal Protection for Special Education under IDEA

However, apart from improved educational methodology, there is also another component to the special education field that it is important for both parents and teachers to know well, the federal laws governing this field which is covered by the disability act known as IDEA. So, in most educational jurisdictions, special education is overseen by federal law under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). Under the law, special education must provide support, services, and placements to all educational needs without any cost to the parents.

The categories under IDEA include sensory impairments like deafness, hearing impairments, blindness, visual impairments, and speech and language impairments; mental and emotional impairment like autism, developmental delays, emotional disturbance, specific learning disabilities, and traumatic brain injury; and physical impairments like multiple disabilities, orthopedic disabilities, and other health impairments. Additionally, some jurisdictions may include a Gifted category as children with extraordinary talent also have considerable difficulty fitting into the curriculum of regular schooling.

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With that in mind, we have researched free online classes that address either educational techniques or legal issues. It wasn’t easy to find the best of ten free online classes available for parents and special education teachers from leading universities, e-learning providers, the autism society, and from online education databases but we did. Without further delay, here are the Top 10 Free Classes Available Online For Special Education Teachers and Parents of Special Needs Children:

Special Education Classes from Leading Universities

There are innumerable free online classes offered by some of the world’s best universities available at your fingertips. These cover everything that is available through the regular educational system and they are taught by leading professors. The courses are delivered through video lectures, articles, and online tests.

In the field of Special Education, we found two highly informative courses from the University of Southern Queensland and Yale University.

1. Teaching Students with Special Needs: Behavior Management from the University of Southern Queensland

The University of Southern Queensland, formerly called the Queensland Institute of Technology was established in 1967. As the name indicates, it is located in Southern Queensland, Australia. Its main campus is on Toowoomba and it has campuses in Springfield and Fraser Coast.

In Teaching Students with Special Needs: Behavior Management, students are shown a number of methods to help special needs children in different age groups and educational levels. The course explores researched teaching methods and discusses various researched techniques to maintain attention in a classroom.

This course includes the following themes and is most suitable for special education students:

• Classroom teaching, management, and procedures
• Comprehensive methods to positively influence children
• Cooperative learning strategies
• Tutoring by peers

The course also provides in depth lectures on the following behavior management theories:

• The Kounin model
• The Behavior Modification model
• The Assertive Discipline model
• The Reality Therapy model
• The Logical Consequences model
• The Social Skills training model

For more, visit Teaching Students with Special Needs: Behavior Management here.

2. The Legal Rights of Children with Autism and Related Disorders from Yale University

Yale University is ranked as one of the top private Ivy League universities in the world. Located in New Haven, Connecticut, it has developed a formidable reputation as one of the best places for students interested in advanced research.

Yale University has a YouTube Channel that offers free courses. In the field of special education it has an excellent class called, “The Legal Rights of Children with Autism and Related Disorders.”

The Legal Rights of Children with Autism and Related Disorders covers some highly important and relevant topics on legal issues in considerable depth.

The course includes the following themes:

• A brief history of how special education laws evolved over time
• How the law gets involved in the life of a child after he or she is diagnosed with autism or another related disorder. It covers the law’s involvement in school, home, and adult life
• What legal rights pertain to education, therapy, medical services, and social services
• How parents and guardians can get assistance from local, state, and federal agencies

This course is most suitable for parents as it explains legal issues in a straightforward way without trying to comprehend complicated legal jargon.

For more, visit The Legal Rights of Children with Autism and Related Disorders here.

Special Education Course from E-Learning Providers

E-learning providers are pioneers in the field of learning education. They provide cloud-based learning solutions to thousands of people all over the world. Although not universities or colleges per se, they still offer most educational courses available through formal education.

In the field of Special Education, we found three excellent courses from Alison, Open Learning, and LD online.

3. Working with Students with Special Education Needs by ALISON

ALISON is an acronym for Advance Learning Interactive Systems Online. This e-learning provider was founded in 2007 by Mike Feerick in Galway, Ireland.

Working with Students with Special Education Needs discusses the requirements for meeting the individual needs of special education students. Teachers who work with special educational needs students need to learn certain skills and specific strategies to deliver the most effective classes.

This free course introduces teachers to the following themes:

• The core requirements of special education
• Changes in educational legislature, particularly in the U.S
• Teacher and trainer responsibilities
• An individual educational plan (IEP)

The course also provides a description of the following disabilities:

• Learning disabilities
• Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
• Intellectual disabilities
• Behavioral disorders
• Physical disabilities
• Sensory impairments

Besides a description of each disability, it also goes into practical strategies teachers can use to assist students with each one.

The course is suited for special education teachers.

For more, visit Working with Students-with Special Educational Needs here.

4. The Nobody’s Normal Series by Open University

The Open University is a British University. It is open to people who don’t have formal academic qualification.

The Nobody’s Normal series is a collaborative venture between the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the OpenLearn team, which is a program and web team at The Open University. It is a documentary series to help educate families about the special needs and challenges of disabled people. It covers the five most significant stages in their lives, namely birth, schooling, dating, leaving home, and aging through real-life case studies.

Here are the themes covered in the series:

• Program 1 is titled, “Baby Love.” It covers birth and the early years
• Program 2 is titled, “Education, education, education.” It covers the school years
• Program 3 is titled, “Love is in the air.” It covers adolescent dating
• Program 4 is titled, “Moving on.” It covers early leaving home as a young adult
• Program 5 is titled, “Who cares.” It covers old age

This course is suitable for parents as it provides a non-academic perspective on all the social issues around raising a child with disabilities.

For more, visit The Nobody’s Normal Series by Open University here.

5. Advocacy in Special Education by LD Online

LD OnLine is an authority website on learning disabilities. It is a valuable resource for both parents and teachers.

Andrea Sherwin Ripp, Ed.M., MS, OTR/L, has created a free course on Advocacy in Special Education for parents. The program is built around her approved study doctorate thesis for research in special needs education.

The course is structured to offer:

• 2 surveys
• 3 readings
• Self-study questions
• A short answer assignment

It provides the following lessons on Special Advocacy:

• Special education documentation
• Legal rights
• Practical strategies to get support and services
• References to nationwide parent support networks
• References to special education resources

The course is suitable for parents. Parents who complete the course receive a course certificate and a comprehensive resource list. They are also entered into a drawing for one of five Amazon.com gift certificates valued at $25 each.

For more, visit Advocacy in Special Education here.

Special Education Classes from the Autism Society of America

Dr. Bernard Rimland and Dr Ruth Sullivan founded the Autism Society of America in 1965 to support parents with children who had autism or related disorders. The Autism society offers two useful classes for parents: Autism 101 and Autism and the Environment 101.

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6. Autism Society: Autism 101


Autism 101 is principally for parents, but may also help those working with autism as caregivers. This course covers the autism spectrum, treatment options and assistance, transition to adulthood, and what parents can do every day. Participants can download a certificate of completion in PDF format to have a reminder of their course experiences.

For more, visit Autism 101 here.

7. Autism and the Environment 101 by the Autism Society


Autism and the Environment 101 expands on the ideas introduced in the Autism 101 course to give a much broader understanding of Autism. This course covers a new model of autism, why there is a noticeable rise of autism spectrum disorders, and the role of government in helping children with autism. The course concludes with what parents and caretakers can do every day. Participants can receive a printable PDF certificate of completion.

For more, visit Autism and the Environment 101 here.

Special Education Classes from Open Education Database

Open Education Database (OEDb) may very well be the most comprehensive collection of both online university and free courses available in the world. Founded in 2007, it has been a pioneer in the open education movement. In fact, it offers information on as many as 10,000 free open courses. We found three course on special education offered by Liberty University. Liberty University is a private, Christian institution in Lynchburg Virginia. On campus, it has 12,600 residential students. Its online division has 90,000 students and is hosted on iTunes as part of the iTunes U course collection.

8. Current Trends in Special Education by Liberty University

Current Trends in Special Education includes the following themes:

• Legal and ethical issues
• Documentation procedures
• The Individual Education Plan (IEP)
• The Individualized Family Service Plans (IFSP)
• Service delivery in school, church and community locations

For more, visit Current Trends in Special Education here.

9. Issues and Trends in Exceptionality by Liberty University


Issues and Trends in Exceptionality by Liberty University includes the following themes:

• Trends influencing special education
• How to research, analyze and evaluate controversial issues when it comes to exceptionalities.

This course is most suitable for special education teachers.

For more, visit Issues and Trends in Exceptionality by Liberty University here.

10. Learning and Behavior Problems by Liberty University


Learning and Behavior Problems includes the following themes:
• Characteristics of children with disabilities
• Learning and behavior problems
• Remediation goals

This course is suited for special education teachers.

For more, visit Learning and Behavior Problems here.

Bonus Links, Information, and Resources

In addition to these 10 free online courses there are many other helpful online resources. Classes, videos, podcasts, and articles on special education provide detailed knowledge about the characteristics of various disorders, the legal aspects of advocacy and assistance, and creative teaching methods.

Here are some additional resources for special education teachers to consider:

Visit Do to Learn for free activities and games
Visit Teacher Vision for free curriculum ideas and techniques for managing classrooms
The National Association of Special Education Teachers to stay informed on the latest special education teaching methods