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Supporting Hybrid Model Students With Special Needs

It's no secret that many schools are turning to the hybrid model in an attempt to keep students connected with their teachers during this virtual learning revolution. If haven't experienced it before, the hybrid education model involves alternating students between online classes and in-person classes throughout the week.  

While this would be frustrating and confusing for anyone from teachers to parents, it can be especially taxing on students with a disability. 

How the Hybrid Model Affects Students with Special Needs

Learning disabilities are neurological disorders that impact the student's abilities to understand or process information. Some common forms that learning disorders take on include auditory processing disorders, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia. It is also common for children suffering from Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to have other comorbid learning difficulties.

As a teacher, you should consider what accommodations you can put in place to enhance the hybrid learning environment for students impacted by learning disabilities. You'll have to approach your teaching plans differently for these students since not everyone learns in the same way.

Most learners face difficulty adapting to a new learning arrangement. However, this transition poses an even more daunting challenge for many of the seven million-plus students with learning disabilities in American public schools. The situation is worse for these students with special needs because they have no access to in-person academic, physical therapy, or counseling support.

At first, supporting students with special needs in blended learning environments may appear to be a daunting task for most educators and teachers. However, you can make many instructional, technical, and educational considerations to support students impacted by disabilities.

5 Ways You Can Help

For most students with special needs, hybrid learning might be an excellent opportunity to access academics and necessary supports for educational achievement. Here are a few tips on how you can improve and provide support for hybrid model students with special needs.

1. Review Student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) Goals

Educators should review IEPs to identify and adopt learning goals into your district's or school hybrid model. Most students with special needs have related service supports. These services may include counseling, occupational therapy, speech or language therapy.

Make an effort to review each of your learners’ IEPs. This will help determine which specialists you should collaborate with to offer individualized support to special needs students. As an educator or teacher, you may find it necessary to work closely with speech therapists, school psychologists, or social workers to best meet your student's IEP goals.

Support staff, special education, and general teachers should collaborate closely in completing this review for students with special needs. This can help the different educators understand which IEP goals fall under their direct responsibility.

2. Make Considerations for Their Emotional Wellbeing

The impact of this impromptu transition is significant. It will no doubt affect and alter the learning trajectories for many students. This why you have to regularly ask for feedback and input from students. As a teacher, you can ask what support they need and honor those requests. This can go a long way in providing the help that students want and need.

Don't assume that you’re aware of all your students' needs. After all, no one has ever been in this crisis before. Students with special needs might only be able to accomplish specific tasks with the support that's only available in class. Avoid asking your students to engage in those types of assignments when they’re at home or away from the classroom setting.

3. Communicate Early and Often with Caregivers and Students

Keep separate lines of communication for your students and their caregivers. Both will require different kinds of reassurance from you.


Tell your class how you expect them to behave with you and the level of effort you expect when they work on and hand in assignments. This transparency can be helpful for students impacted by learning disabilities.

On days when you don't meet in-person, You can choose to interact with students over the phone or online to provide instructional support or pre-teaching topics they’re struggling with. 


Most parents of students with special needs are likely to be worried that the hybrid learning model will deny their kids the support and service they need to succeed. Communicating your commitment to the prosperity of their children can help set them at ease.

Give them ways they can reach you if the kids are struggling with academics at home. Assure them that their children will receive the assistive technologies and accommodations within the blended learning program. Explain that there are reasonable expectations in place for both communication and learning.

4. Offer Technical Support

You may likely need to teach all your students (and sometimes parents too) how to use digital learning tools and technologies efficiently. Most digital learning platforms have assistive technology such as closed captioning and screen readers for students with learning disabilities. This is why these students might need additional support to navigate and launch the learning technology.

In class, you can also incorporate the technology into your curriculum. As students learn the usual course content, they can also develop digital proficiency. For example, if you teach history, you might ask the students to create a video or PowerPoint presentation of a particular event, like the Revolutionary War. There are many online resources students can use with a project-based learning approach.

For students with special needs, such an approach can create an excellent opportunity to enrich their experience without the pressure of being physically present with their peers. Students with disabilities can often feel excluded and marginalized in class.

5. Encourage Limited Student’s Screen Time

While hybrid learning may be our safest option right now, it poses risks to kids' social, physical, and academic wellbeing. Hybrid learning integrates online learning into the traditional classroom-based education. This significantly increases the amount of time the students spend sitting in front of a computer or staring into a digital device screen.

Extended screen time can translate to insomnia and poor sleep patterns and quality. As an educator, you should encourage caregivers, parents, and even students to use screen time judiciously. Educate the parents on strategies of limiting their children's screen time when they’re learning from home.

Managing a hybrid schedule for students with special needs has its hurdles, but it can be done. With a little creativity and a positive attitude, you have the ability to give these students an enjoyable experience despite the challenges they face. 


Written by Brenda Maritim
Education World Contributor
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