Teach to Student Characteristics

There is no one typical or non-typical student of any age, but a little information about the characteristics of the students with disabilities will help you become more creative and secure in what you are doing.



Ask yourself: How can I help this student tune in to the spiritual and learning environment?

After an event, worship experience or teaching, evaluate: What did I learn about this student that I can incorporate into our experience next time?


Some Typical Student Characteristics


1.  Short attention span. Teach to it by using props as attention getters, and provide for body movement. Engage the student through participation. Have student focus before giving brief and concise directions or before you ask a question.

2.  No concept of time. Long ago means nothing. It happened yesterday or last week. Grasping Old Testament and New Testament is not a time frame but pages in the Bible. The death of a relative who died five years ago is as yesterday, and the persons is still praying for the family. Divorce is always fresh; it happened yesterday.

3. All have varied motor skills, and many are not apparent until you intentionally find them. Ask: What can this person do, and do it that way.

4.   Auditory perception deficits abound. Verbal instructions take a long time to process or cannot be processed. Instead of saying, “Please come to the table,” touch (if appropriate) and say, “Let’s go to the table.” Or develop a sound system instead of verbal directions by having a student ring a bell when it is time to change activities.

5. Auditory overload may lead to a meltdown.  Avoid repeating questions and directions over and over. For readers, write directions on white board, or use a picture board. Learn calming strategies for meltdowns by reading about them below.

6.  Attention deficit disorders mean that everything clamors for attention, so

  • Keep the room as uncluttered as possible with not in use things covered until the appropriate time.
  • Say, “Look (or please) at my nose or chin.” Then tell. Or say, “Look at my hand,” then point to the picture board.

7. Persons who are non-verbal want to participate, so make it possible through the use of clapping, humming, holding pictures, notecards on a memory board, pointing to words on a white board, ringing bells, tapping table or programming a speech board.  Give the person time to process what they will do. The leader sets the tone by waiting with respect. If there is no speech board or other equipment available, ask questions that can be answered with a yes or no. Always affirm every answer.

8. Persons who are vision impaired benefit from tactile experiences such as touching, music, bells, water play. If the person cannot eat, place cheerios or pop corn, etc., in a plastic bag for the person to feel. Find out what is comfortable for that person. Is it aroma or air blowing, loud noises, hot or cold water? If using story papers, place a big dot of frisket or blob of glue on the main character in a picture, and help the student find the dot. Braille is available for curriculum and hymnals.

9. Persons who are deaf, deafened or hearing impaired have different comfortable learning styles. All benefit from having the speaker’s mouth in light. If there is no sign language interpreter, have a mentor write key words. Find out if the persons has an aversion to being touched. If not, touch lightly to notify the person you are there and will mentor them.

10. Establish a comfortable routine, and post it for leaders and students so that everyone knows what to expect. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO VEER AWAY FROM THE ROUTINE TO FOLLOW THE INTEREST OF THE PERSON AND GROUP AS YOU MAKE THE STANDARD ROUTINE FLUID.



Meltdowns  (Sensory Overload)

What is a meltdown?

When students are stressed or anxious they may become hypervigilant, agitated, tense, aggressive or unusually withdrawn. They may become “clingy” to a leader, or may cry or begin rocking or other unusual repetitive actions. The reactions may vary for each individual student.

Triggers for meltdowns

Prolonged noise, being asked to do something  beyond their power to do, repetitive directions given in the same way, uncertainty in social situations, fear, light sensitivity (especially florescent lights that pulse as the person perceives pulses that most persons do not see), unusual geometric patterns in a carpet, aversion to unusual tastes or tactile experiences and many other things that are highly individual.


How to avoid meltdowns

Develop a sense of safety and friendliness in the group.

Post a written schedule so students know what to expect.

Find a student’s comfort zone and help them stay within it. For example, is glue an unpleasant tactile experience or does being ignored set a person off? Is hugging unpleasant?

Watch for signs of sensory overload, and take a comfort break.


Calming strategies when a meltdown occurs

o     Offer the student a break separate from the group, or have the group change directions for a while. For example, tell the group it is counting time and count to five. Those who cannot count will find the rhythm and order comforting.

o     Hold the person’s hand and quietly speak reassurances.

o     Hum a song. Sounds silly, but humming is comforting. You may need to teach the group to hum.

o     Create a comfort corner where you take a student and sit with them. After a while students may recognize overload and take themselves to that place then return to the group. A special cushion or beanbag chair or place with a fan or flowers serves well.

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