5 Ways Teachers Can Help Learners with Intellectual Disabilities (ID) in their Class

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Intellectual disabilities (ID) are a group of conditions that affect a person’s cognitive abilities, such as learning, reasoning, and problem-solving. People with ID may have difficulties with communication, social skills, and daily living skills. ID can be caused by genetic factors, environmental factors, or a combination of both.

Inclusion and support are essential for all learners, especially those with ID. Inclusive education means that all students, regardless of their abilities, are valued and respected as members of the school community.

Supporting students with ID means providing them with individualized instruction and accommodations that meet their unique needs and strengths. One way to do this is by developing an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student with ID. An IEP is a legal document that outlines the student’s goals, services, and modifications for the school year.

In this article, we will outline 5 specific ways teachers can help students with ID in their class. These strategies are based on research and best practices for teaching students with ID.

5 specific ways teachers can help students with ID in their class

1. Use small steps and break down tasks.

One of the most effective strategies for teaching students with ID is to use small steps and break down tasks into manageable chunks. This helps students to focus on one skill or concept at a time, and to build on their prior knowledge and success. Breaking down tasks also reduces the cognitive load and frustration for students, and allows them to practice and master each step before moving on to the next one.

For example, if you are teaching students how to write a paragraph, you can break down the task into the following steps:

  • Choose a topic sentence.
  • Write three supporting sentences.
  • Write a concluding sentence.
  • Check for spelling and grammar errors.

You can also use assistive technology tools to help students with breaking down tasks. For example, you can use a graphic organizer app to help students organize their ideas, or a text-to-speech app to help students listen to their writing.

2. Modify teaching to be more hands-on and visual.

Another effective strategy for teaching students with ID is to modify your teaching to be more hands-on and visual. This means using concrete and tangible materials and examples to help students understand abstract concepts and ideas. Hands-on and visual learning also engages multiple senses and modalities, which can enhance memory and retention.

For example, if you are teaching students about fractions, you can use manipulatives like fraction bars, pizza slices, or cookies to show them how fractions are parts of a whole. You can also use visuals like pictures, charts, and diagrams to illustrate concepts and relationships.

3. Incorporate more physical learning experiences.

Physical activity is not only good for the body, but also for the brain. Research shows that physical activity can improve cognitive function, mood, and behavior for students with ID. Physical activity can also help students with ID to develop their motor skills, coordination, and self-confidence.

Therefore, it is important to incorporate more physical learning experiences into your lessons. This means using movement and games to teach and reinforce concepts and skills.

For example, you can use a hopscotch board to teach students about number sequences, or a scavenger hunt to teach students about shapes and colors. You can also provide students with breaks and time for movement throughout the day, such as recess, physical education, or yoga.

4. Use positive reinforcement and clear expectations.

Behavior management is another key aspect of teaching students with ID. Students with ID may have challenges with following rules, staying on task, and controlling their impulses. To help students with ID to behave appropriately and learn effectively, teachers need to use positive reinforcement and clear expectations.

Positive reinforcement means providing students with praise, feedback, and rewards for their positive behaviors and achievements. Positive reinforcement can motivate students to repeat and improve their behaviors, and to develop a positive self-image and self-esteem.

For example, you can use verbal praise, stickers, or tokens to reward students for completing a task, following a direction, or helping a peer.

Clear expectations mean providing students with specific and consistent rules and routines for the classroom. Clear expectations can help students to understand what is expected of them, and to feel safe and secure in their environment. For example, you can use visual schedules, timers, and cues to remind students of the daily activities, transitions, and expectations.

5. Collaborate with parents and other professionals.

The last strategy for teaching students with ID is to collaborate with parents and other professionals. Collaboration means working together as a team to share information, resources, and support for the benefit of the student. Collaboration can help teachers to gain a better understanding of the student’s needs, strengths, and interests, and to provide more consistent and effective instruction and interventions.

For example, you can collaborate with parents by communicating regularly, involving them in the IEP process, and providing them with tips and strategies for home learning.

You can also collaborate with other professionals, such as special education teachers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and psychologists, by consulting with them, co-teaching with them, and referring students to them when needed.

There are also many resources and support networks available for teachers who work with students with ID. For example, you can access online courses, webinars, and articles from reputable organizations and websites, such as the Council for Exceptional Children, the National Center on Educational Outcomes, and the IRIS Center. You can also join professional associations, communities, and forums, such as the Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities, the Inclusive Schools Network, and the Teachers Pay Teachers website.


Teaching students with ID can be challenging, but also rewarding. By using these 5 strategies, you can help your students with ID to learn and grow in your class. Remember that every student with ID is unique, and that you need to provide ongoing support and individualized instruction to meet their needs. Also, remember that you are not alone, and that you can seek additional resources and training to improve your practice and outcomes for your students.


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