Teaching profound severe needs students virtually

Tips and Tricks for Teaching Profound Severe Needs Students Virtually

Tips and Tricks To Help Your Kids Succeed Online

I’ve been teaching functional skills for many years now but 2020 was my first experience trying to take my sensory friendly hands on classroom into an online platform. It was hard y’all! I honestly spent the later part of the school year floundering, and my data I got showed it. I took the summer and I buried myself in blogs and professional developments, anything that even hinted at having an answer for my woes. In the end, I concluded that none of it was going to meet my kids at the level they were at. After a period of self pity, I put together a plan for teaching profound severe needs students virtually.

Build the parent/teacher relationship

When I talk about profound needs, I’m speaking about students who have not only have the inability to speak, eyesight limitations, limited fine motor capabilities, and cognition and comprehension issues but some combination or all of the above. Although these students may enjoy the iPad in limited capabilities (I.e. short videos) they struggle with the ability to meaningfully interact with it. For this reason, I decided that the required computer portion (attendance check ins, emails, answering questions, etc) would primarily be on the parents. I know, first hand, that parents are massively overloaded right now so I tried my best to keep the requirements as low as possible. My attendance question also serves to gather information for grading purposes and has a check in. It means that parents are asked to write me 1 sentence a day. Sometimes 2 if they are really feeling eloquent. Easy peasy (mostly).

The post service is your best friend

I know what you’re thinking “I thought this was about being virtual” and it is, kinda. The reality of my classroom is that my students need tangible manipulatives to learn. It’s just is what it is. This required all of my best advanced planning skills. No more last minute Teachers Pay Teachers ideas here. I lessoned planned WAYYY in advance so that I could not only literally build my lessons, but I could also get them in the mail and have them arrive prior to the end of the week. Yep- I sent a whole weeks worth of lessons at a time. This meant that Mondays were spent preparing for the following week. I’d load up my individualized activities in addressed boxes and envelopes and the front office would send them out for me. I’m surprised it worked too but you know what, IT DID!

Talk to your supervisor

I’m super blessed that I have a very giving admin when it comes to items like cardstock and printing. Oh the task boxes! They are my bread and butter. My kids are able to do the matching and, with practice, even more complex boxes like one to one correspondence. There are quite a few topics however that just don’t lend themselves to task boxes or I have the kiddo or two that doesn’t do well with paper anything- What do you do then? You get creative! And go talk to your understanding supervisor about budgeting you some moolah to buy “necessities”. If you rolled your eyes at that, cause we all know funding is a real issue, then never fear because many of these items can be bought on the cheap.

Go to supplies

Keeping in mind the broke teacher budget, these supplies are cheap and easily available at your local Walmart, Target, or Dollar Tree. I made and mailed home 3 weeks worth of work for under $15. Considering that in person, I would easily spend double that on edibles and supplies per kid in a week I felt this was pretty affordable. Here is what I got:


This little puzzle was bought at the Dollar Tree. I use it for shape and color recognition. It is also helpful for categorization (stars together, squares, and circles). It would be really easy to add on different symbols/ PECS so that they could match answer on different topics.

Dolls and Stuffed Animals

I bought this little doll from the dollar tree and my students use it in a sensory way. I ask that the parents or a PEC of a body part and the the kids touch or grab it on the doll. I also wrote the name of the parts on the doll to help with identification of the part and to help with word recognition.

Large Plastic Manipulative

For this lesson, we were discussing skip counting. I got a small sack of this hard plastic washer type things from the Target dollar spot. I wrote the numbers on it and threaded it through a pipe cleaner. I used a hole punch to make 2 holes in a piece of cardboard and then attached it. The student is able to move and explore the pieces while still seeing the proper order of the numbers. This could also be adapted to teach letters or even words.

Large Plastic Toys

This concept of this task was to match the animal to the habitat. I bought this large plastic animals at the dollar tree and then printed and laminated the habitat cards. The students are asked to lay the animal on the card of the habitat they would live in. The students enjoy playing with the animals and their different textures.

Brownie Pans

The idea with this was to cover multiple ideas in one task. We were discussing emotions for functional skills and same/different for math. I bought a simple brownie pan from the dollar tree and put some painters tape down the middle. I printed and laminated cards showing the emotions with happy being the same face and upset being different faces. The student puts the card on the side of the pan depending on if the face is the same/ different or by emotion.

Large Lego Blocks

These blocks were bought in a small set at the target dollar spot but you can get a large bag at Walmart for $14, that would last you a long time. This are by far the most useful manipulative for matching or building. Here we were matching opinion/fact and definition. For my students level, I only gave them 1 red black and 1 blue block so they only had that one option. These are also useful for gross motor skills were they are pulling apart and putting together. The option with these block are endless really and you can use them to cover any subjects.

Plastic Meal Prep Containers For Sorting/ Put In

This was another activity were I was doing 2 birds. I got the divided container at the dollar tree and the plastic insects too. The unit in science was about insects (hence the plastic bugs) and the math concept was large/ small and sorting the bugs based on this. I also was able to have them sort based on if the insect was winged or not.

Ping Pong Balls and Egg Cartons

This one is entirely made up of a dollar tree bag of ping pong balls and half a an egg cartoon. I admit its not the prettiest but it works so I’m not sorry. I was working on the concept of rhyming here so I put picture of items that rhyme- one inside the cartoon and the other on the ball. The objective was to match the items that rhyme. The ping pong balls are easy for the kids to manipulate and match, especially for those that struggle with fine motor. This could be adapted for other concepts as well.

This is a huge amount of work for such a low price! They were all appropriate for my high sensory kids while still sticking to the curriculum. If you are interested to know how I got my data, check out my article on Collecting IEP Data Virtually. While I know that this is not online work, the preferred method for virtual learning, it just isn’t always possible. As special education teachers, we are constantly asked and expected to adapt and adjust, this is no different. In the end, we must do what is best for our students.

Published by caffeineprayers

If I listed all the things I do and am that would take a lot of space up, so lets suffice it to say that I'm expert in nothing but I do know somethings about teaching and counseling, I'm really trying to be a good Christian, and I think my kid is pretty cool.

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