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Buying guide for best special education school supplies

Special education students can thrive in classrooms and homeschool situations, but they’re more likely to succeed if the teacher has spent time thinking about and planning for their unique needs. For teachers and homeschoolers, this means investing in special education school supplies that foster a comfortable classroom, exciting lessons, and smooth routines.

Accommodations that make learning goals feel achievable and the environment feel secure can go a long way toward helping kids with autism, sensory processing disorder, Down syndrome, ADHD, and other conditions. For example, a student with ADHD who has difficulty sitting still may find that a simple fidget toy is all it takes to satisfy their need for movement while learning. A student with autism who has a hard time processing verbal instructions may find that a pictorial chart of tasks, schedule changes, and teacher expectations helps the school day flow with ease.

In this guide, we explore some of the best special education supplies you can buy to help your students blossom and achieve their full potential. The products we recommend are wonderful but by no means an exhaustive list of everything available. Read on for more information about different disabilities and the types of supplies you can buy.

Special education school supplies often overlap in function. For example, a musical instrument enjoyed by a student with Down syndrome may also be a meaningful learning tool for a child with sensory integration disorder or cerebral palsy.

Key considerations

Disability types

A teacher’s budget for school supplies is always limited, so of course your top consideration when shopping should be the needs of the individuals in your room.

The nature of a student’s disabilities may be divided into one or more of four broad categories: developmental disability, emotional disability, sensory disability, and physical disability. Here is a brief overview of each.

Developmental disability: A student with a developmental disability may progress at a slower pace than their peers. Examples of developmental disorders include Down syndrome, dyslexia, ADHD, and autism.

Emotional disability: A student with an emotional disability may be referred to as a person with “emotional and behavioral disorder.” This is a general term that could refer to myriad problems including one or more of the following: problems with mood, problems with fear, problems with interpersonal relationships, and inappropriate behaviors.

Sensory disability: A student with a sensory disability may have sensory processing disorder. People with this disorder have trouble taking in and making sense of sensory input. When we discuss “sensory input” here, we mean the information perceived by the five senses as well as the vestibular sensory system (responsible for a person’s physical coordination and sense of balance) and the proprioception system (responsible for a person’s coordination and sense of physical pressure).

Students who don’t easily process sensory input often feel overwhelmed. This can lead to seemingly bizarre and unexplainable behaviors like screaming, body slamming, and “shutting down.” Needless to say, these behaviors aren’t conducive to school learning.

Note that sensory processing disorder isn’t the only reason a student may have sensory needs. For example, a blind or deaf child may also require special adaptive school supplies.

Physical disability: A student with a physical disability may have a congenital or acquired condition. Common diagnoses seen in special education classrooms include cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injury, and traumatic brain injury.

Did you know?
You may be able to buy supplies for your classroom with money from a federal or private grant. To receive the money, you must present a compelling case and explain how you would use the cash to benefit your students.
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Features

The spectrum of special education school supplies is a broad one, from low-tech pencil grips that help students hold their writing utensils to keyless keyboards that allow kids to create documents without typing.

These supplies can be broken down into subsets of products that address different needs. Some of the most common needs addressed in a special education classroom include the following.

Fine motor and gross motor needs

The smaller muscles in a person’s hands and fingers are responsible for fine motor activities like writing, typing, and manipulating silverware. All children need time to develop these skills, but kids with special needs sometimes require extra practice. Popular materials that help students develop and master fine motor skills include pencil grips, weighted pencils, training scissors, pegboards, jigsaw puzzles, fidget toys, modeling dough, and paint and art sets.

Large bodily movements such as walking, lifting, and kicking are gross motor movements. Students with muscle weakness, poor coordination, and similar problems may need a boost to help them hone these skills. Popular materials that help students develop and master gross motor skills include balls, punching bags, exercise bands, parachutes, balance boards, balance bikes, and ride-on toys.

Sensory integration needs

Students with sensory processing disorder benefit from school supplies that they can see, hear, touch, and manipulate in a calm setting where they don’t feel stressed or overwhelmed. In fact, one of the primary goals of sensory integration therapy is just that: to give kids positive experiences with sensory input so they are better able to cope with it in other life situations.

Popular materials that may help students with sensory integration problems include fidget toys, squishy toys, textured balls, kinetic sand, headphones, textured seat pads, stuffed animals, snuggle wraps, and weighted lap pads and blankets.

Language development needs

Some students need help developing their language skills. They may have a hard time expressing themselves or understanding the words of others. Visual images often mean more to these kids than spoken words, so a lot of the classroom products in this realm have a strong visual component.

Popular materials that may help students with language development include photo or illustration cards, reading guide strips, color overlays, emoji toys, sketch pads, drawing tablets, whiteboards, art supplies, and sand tables for finger drawing and writing.

Behavioral needs

Some special education students may need help developing positive self-esteem, confidence, and self-control. Furthermore, some teachers may benefit from products that help students monitor and manage their behaviors in the classroom.

Teachers often use pocket charts to help kids track their behaviors and monitor progress toward various goals. Other popular materials that help with behavioral management include books about feelings and social norms, posters that display facial expressions associated with different moods, reminder bracelets, study carrels, and reward tickets and stickers.

Expert Tip
A pencil grip is a writing tool that can benefit a child with limited hand strength, dexterity, or coordination. Made of a soft, grippy material like silicone, these inexpensive items are easy to get and fun to use.
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Special education school supply prices

Inexpensive: A simple item like a pencil grip may cost as little as $.70, though these are likely to be sold in bulk packages of ten or more. Fidget toys, pocket charts, reading strips, single copies of books, language-building picture cards, and inspirational posters can all be purchased for under $20. If properly cared for, these items can last for several years.

Mid-range: Larger supplies such as balance boards, parachutes, white boards, snuggle wraps, and weighted blankets cost a bit more but are still quite affordable. Expect to pay from $20 to $80 for these items.

Expensive: The most sophisticated special education school supplies cost more than $80. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better products; it just means that the raw materials and manufacturing process cost more. Many of these supplies are electronic in nature. The best voice recorders, drawing tablets, whiteboards, and smart pens may cost between $100 and $300. Interactive whiteboards often cost over $1,000.

Did you know?
Supplies that help disabled students are sometimes referred to as assistive technology, or AT. AT can be defined as any item that aids the functioning of a person with a disability.
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Tips

  • Buy in bulk to save money. Items like fidget toys, canisters of modeling dough, packages of kinetic sand, and art supplies often cost less per piece when you buy a large quantity. If you have room in your budget, buy extra supplies and stash the leftovers for next year.
  • Ask parents and parent organizations for help. If your yearly budget is small, you might not have much left over after buying the basics. One option is to ask parents to donate the basics — pencils, paper, folders, and such — so you can use more of your allotted money for larger purchases. Another option is to ask your school’s parent club (or a similar organization) to purchase a larger item, such as a drawing tablet or keyless keyboard, for you. If you present your case and justify your need, you may be surprised by their generosity.
  • Exhaust all public school resources — even if you homeschool. If you’ve chosen to homeschool your special needs child, you may still be eligible for public school services. It’s not guaranteed that the public school would come to your home to provide them, but they might. Find out what’s available and take it from there.
Remember that no matter how many great supplies you have, there is no such thing as the perfect classroom. You will have rough days. You will have off days. Find a colleague to share your highs and lows; it’ll make your professional life more fulfilling.

FAQ

Q. How can reading guide strips and color overlays help my child?
A.
Reading guide strips are for struggling readers who may be prone to losing focus, skipping lines, or skipping words. These inexpensive strips, usually sold in multipacks, highlight the words to be read in a bright color while muting the other words with a neutral color like gray.

Similar to reading guide strips, color overlays are transparent sheets that can help draw the reader’s concentration toward the page while reducing eyestrain.


Q. My high school student has a hard time taking notes fast enough during a lecture. What solutions should I seek?
A.
For students who have trouble writing by hand or processing auditory information, a variable speed recorder can be helpful, especially in high-level classes where the pace is quick. The student can play back a lecture as many times as needed at a slower speed.

If your student is into gadgets and you’ve got the budget, invest in a smart pen. This item looks like a regular ink pen but contains a built-in computer, camera, and audio recorder to enhance note taking. Your student can use it to transfer written notes into shareable digital files. And because the pen is also a recorder, your student can listen to the lecture again later for review.
 

Q. I don’t have a huge budget for my special education classroom, but my principal is open to buying new software for our computer lab. What are the best products?
A.
Voice-to-text software is great for kids who struggle with spelling, eye-hand coordination, and manual dexterity. “Talking worksheets” are engaging, self-paced worksheets that come in particularly handy for students who struggle with mathematics. If you have a set of iPads or Chromebooks in your classroom, do a quick internet search: there are lots of inexpensive (or free) apps made for special education purposes.

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