How Students with Special Needs and Disabilities Can Get Involved with Peers

What do we want? Ideal situations for all of our students. When do we want them? Years ago!

For change to happen, better ideas have to present themselves. Sure, some school systems are catching on – but sometimes they need a nudge. How do we effectively suggest and implement better involvement between our students with special needs and their peers?



Students with special needs and disabilities are like all students in that they want friends, respect and to be included. It’s through integration that typically developing students come to understand that fact. Students with special needs benefit from being involved with their peers through increased family integration into the community. Students without special needs benefit too from their increased appreciation and acceptance of individual differences and through building meaningful friendships. It’s that much sought-after “win-win” setting we all seek.

But how can we kick-start this team building? When presenting this idea to our principals or curriculum committees, we have to introduce and start-up a new way of doing things.. It might not be easy, but this is the kind of change that brings great results. Here are some ideas:

Buddy Systems

Pairing students with special needs with their peers by placing them all in one elective class can be very effective. If they only learn that no two people are the same – that some differences are just more noticeable, they are on the road to inclusion. They all come away with better self-esteem and a greater belief in each other’s abilities.

After-School Clubs

Traditionally, cultural and ethnic diversity are what Unity Clubs are all about. But when students with special needs are included in these clubs, yet another area of diversity can be addressed. What is it like to be me, what is it like to be you? Questions can be posed to the participants to minimize the perception gaps between the classmates. They may discover that kids with special needs can do many of the things their peers do — it just might take them longer.



A Lego or “Brick” team or club can also be a wonderful, leveled playing field for all sorts of abilities. And you might be surprised at how many parents of children with special needs are happy to volunteer if it means their children can participate. Even if the kids need assistance or adaptive equipment to help them, there is no deterrent to their love of Legos. It will be obvious to everyone that kids of all abilities have the same needs and wants, and are no different on the inside.

Peer Mentoring

Consider after-school homework mentoring programs with “learning ambassadors” to blur the lines. A student with a deep knowledge of a certain subject can be a valuable resource. Wouldn’t that person love to impart their knowledge to others who happen to struggle with the same subject? Positive, unexpected allies are formed when this dynamic is fostered. Older students with special needs can lend a lot of intellectual and advocacy experience to their underclassmen and vice versa. Perhaps It’s a staffed homework club where the one-on-one tutoring takes the pressure off the teacher.

All these ideas have been tried and accepted in other areas – What about your area? The inclusion of special needs students with their peers goes a long way toward quashing bullying. Kids can grow up knowing that a disability is only one characteristic of a person. Inclusion fosters alliances and encourages new friendships we may have never dreamed of having. So, let’s help our children learn that we all have many facets. We all have likes and dislikes, and varying skill sets and interests. And we all have different strengths and challenges. Including students with special needs with their peers can bring the community together in wonderful ways.

Get Ready for Kindergarten!



Being ready for kindergarten means that your child is able to attend to and learn the information being presented in the academic setting and is emotionally able to interact appropriately with her teacher and fellow students.

What are some of the skills expected of a child entering kindergarten?

  • Can identify letters, and knows many of the sounds a letter makes
  • Can identify the beginning sound of some words and may recognize some common sight words
  • Can write his name and holds a pencil or crayon correctly
  • Can complete a 12 piece puzzle
  • Can hold and use scissors correctly
  • Runs, jumps, skips and manages stairs
  • Counts up to 10 objects
  • Listens without interrupting
  • Can pay attention for a short time period to an adult directed task
  • Follows simple directions
  • Can wait his turn and expresses feelings with words, as opposed to being physical when angry
  • Can play appropriately with other children
  • Can go to the bathroom by himself
  • Can separate from parents

What are some things I can do to prepare my child for kindergarten?

  • Read daily with your child and discuss what you read. Connect it to her daily experience. If reading a book about animals, relate it to your last visit to the zoo. 
  • Have an active social life. Give your child lots of opportunities to play with others and practice sharing and social skills. 
  • Encourage your child’s independence by giving them chores around the house; have her select her clothes, dress herself, help her make her own snack.  
  • Help your child ‘write’ letters to friends and family members. You can begin by tracing letters on paper or in the sand box. Graduate to pencil and paper writing and have it available to work with.
  • Play sound games including rhyming words, making up silly songs, repeating tongue twisters.
  • Talk to your child about kindergarten and what her day will be like, visit the school if possible and try to set up a play date with future classmates. Encourage your child to talk to you about kindergarten as well.

If you have serious reservations about whether your child is ready for kindergarten, some districts offer kindergarten evaluations and can give you feedback. You may also consider having your child formally assessed by a psychologist who can assist you in your decision making process for kindergarten.

Resources–schools/pre-academic-skills/articles/toolkit-pre-academic-skills.html More ideas from AbilityPath on helping ensure your child has developed appropriate academic skills. Information on how to launch a child into a bright future through reading.

What Are Designated Instructional Services (DIS)?

Your child may be eligible for Designated Instruction Services (DIS), also known as related services. These support services help a child benefit from his special education program. They also help him make progress in the general curriculum. Eligibility is evaluated through an assessment during the IEP process or by referral after placement. DIS must be specified in writing on the IEP.

These are examples of DIS services:

  • Speech and language therapy provided by a speech pathologist for children with communication needs
  • Orientation and mobility instruction to teach a child with visual impairments how to navigate through his or her environment
  • Audiological services for a child with hearing loss
  • Physical or occupational therapy for a child with gross motor, fine motor, or self-care needs
  • Vision services for children with visual impairments
  • Mental health services provided by a mental health professional (a Clinical Mental Health Therapist)
  • Health and nursing services provided by a school nurse or other qualified professional for a child with special health care needs
  • Specialized physical health care services, for example, a child who uses a catheter and needs assistance
  • Extended school year or summer school
  • Transportation to and from school
  • Program aide or paraprofessional for a child who needs personal assistance
  • Individual Behavior Training, for example, applied behavior analysis

What is Inclusive Preschool Education?

Inclusive education is a system in which students with special needs can attend school with their typically developing peers. An inclusive preschool system integrates special education and related services into all aspects of its program. This makes it possible to address the needs of both special needs and typically developing children.

Teachers in an inclusive preschool should be both general education teachers and special education teachers working together with any paraprofessionals to support the unique learning needs of all students.

Teaching staffs in inclusive preschool programs must have knowledge of typical and atypical development and methods of instruction that reach all students. To both serve and advocate for students, they must also understand the importance of the relationships among children, family members, and staff. The vision for inclusive preschool is to have every child prepared to succeed in school as well as in life later on.

What should you look for in a quality inclusive preschool setting?

  • Teachers work together to provide for the needs of all students.
  • Parents, general education and special education teachers, and service providers work together to determine the students’ needs.
  • Program practices are research-based and culturally, linguistically, and developmentally appropriate.
  • Children have opportunities to work and play with each other throughout the school day.
  • There is a focus on the whole child.
  • The school provides a welcoming and ongoing relationship with the families, focusing on their needs.
  • There is a collaboration and partnership with families and communities.
  • The preschool is accountable for the improved outcomes for all students.

How can teachers encourage success in an inclusive school setting?

  • Aim for a low student-to-adult ratio and a ratio of typically developing to special needs students that is about eight to two.
  • Support general preschool and special education collaboration.
  • Seek parents as partners.
  • Provide support for staff development and parent education.
  • Ensure that teachers plan activities with an understanding of developmentally appropriate outcomes.
  • Make sure all adults participate or are briefed on proposed development outcomes and measures.
  • Schedule meetings regularly to look at data. This can help determine whether teachers are helping to meet goals and employing strategies that are research-based and culturally, linguistically, and developmentally appropriate.
  • Ensure individuals discuss issues or concerns openly and with a focus on solutions.
  • Provide time for adult collaboration, planning, and communication.

What if You Don’t Agree with the Proposed IEP Services?

Signing the IEP form denotes your agreement with the plan and will allow services to begin. Here’s what to do if you don’t agree with the plan.

  • If you disagree with the IEP, then you need to verbally reject it. Doing this provides the school personnel the chance to rethink the services they are offering. If you still can’t reach any kind of resolution after you have given your verbal intent, you have the option to accept or formally reject the IEP.
  • You must make a formal rejection in writing on the IEP form. Sign and date the “I do not accept the educational program” clause. You may note that you attended the meeting, but that you are not giving your permission to implement it. You have the option to take the IEP for further consideration and may sign and return it when you are ready.
  • If you only disagree with a portion of the IEP, you may sign the IEP and include a statement of exceptions in the space provided. Those exceptions will not be implemented until the matter is resolved.
  • Keep a complete copy of the rejected IEP. You may notify the Special Education Division of the California Department of Education (at 1-800-926-0648) if you feel you have a complaint or a due process issue .
  • You must file a complaint or request for a due process hearing for the issue to continue. After the formal rejection is filed, a school representative will contact you to facilitate a compromise or a mutually satisfactory conclusion. Or the Office of Administrative Hearing (OAH) in Sacramento, California will send you a notice of mediation .

What is a due process hearing? If there continues to be disagreement after mediation, the case will need a due process hearing. The case will be heard before an impartial hearing officer. This officer has the power to decide the outcome of the IEP. It’s best to use an advocate or attorney for assistance.