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Top 5 tips for supporting students with intellectual disability as a relief teacher

Written by Illume Learning

Relief teaching is a big job with new schools, new students and constant change. Just by the fact you do this work, we already know you’re flexible and adaptable, and these skills will come in handy when supporting students with intellectual disability. But what else do you need?

Here are our top 5 tips for supporting students with intellectual disability in your role as a relief teacher.

Get to Know Your Students (as best you can in the time you have!)

It can be easy to get bogged down in research and advice about the best approaches for teaching students with intellectual disability. Of course, this stuff is still important – but the MOST important thing is to get to know your students as individuals. There are obvious challenges to this when you’re spending limited time with a class but make the most of what you have and learn as much as you can. What are their strengths, difficulties, interests and dislikes? What is their personality like? Labels don’t define people so it’s important that you get to know your students on a personal level instead of making assumptions based on their diagnosis. By getting to know your student’s interests you can ensure learning opportunities are targeted and highly engaging.

Keep Things Consistent

Students with intellectual disability can often find change difficult, with changes to routines and expectations sometimes being hard to process or know how to respond to. Having a different teacher – whether for a day, a week, or a term – is a huge change! It’s important to keep as many other things consistent as possible. The more you can find out about regular routines and processes the better. By maintaining as much regularity as you can, students are more likely to understand expectations, leading to increased engagement.

Never Underestimate the Power of Visuals

There’s lots of research that suggests students with intellectual disability are visual learners. We know, for example, that students with Down syndrome have significantly better visual short-term memory than verbal short term memory. This means it’s vitally important to include visuals in our day. Resources like a First-Then chart can be super handy to have in your toolkit. Alternatively, apps like First-then Visual Schedule can be used to quickly prepare personalised visuals. There are no rules when it comes to visual supports so don’t be afraid to try new things – write, draw, use photos – let your creativity shine!

Have Your Toolkit Ready

Students with intellectual disability can often require support with fine motor and sensory processing. There are so many simple resources you can have ready to go in your toolkit so you’ve always got something to try. Therapy putty can be great for sensory input or warming up hands and fingers for writing. Zip bracelets and fidget pencil toppers are wonderful for students who need to fidget when they’re concentrating. There’s a range of modified scissors for students whose fine motor difficulties make cutting a challenge. Not everything will work with every student but by having a toolkit with a variety of resources you’ll always have an option to try – and the novelty of something new can score you some brownie points with students too!

Remember Why You’re a Teacher

We’re going to go out on a limb here and say we suspect it’s because you love kids and care deeply about them getting a great education and experiencing success. All of this applies to our students with intellectual disability, sometimes even more so. All students deserve a great education, and all students deserve to have people believe in them and support them. Some days are going to be tough but sometimes stopping to reflect on this can help get us back on track.

You’ll do just brilliantly, we know it.

Don’t forget, Illume Learning is here to support you! Keep an eye out for a range of exciting professional development opportunities, both online and in-person.

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