Disability Awareness

Tuesday, September 29, 2015
As a sister of a very special brother, I have been teaching others about disability, Down syndrome to be specific, for as long as I can remember. I remember having friends come to my house for sleepovers when I was 5 or 6 and explaining to my friends that my brother has Down syndrome and is "just like us. He just learns things slower." When I became a special education teacher, my love for teaching others about disabilities and raising awareness grew immensely. Last year, I had the privilege of being a part of the piloting of a moderate to severe special education program in my district. It was the first year that my school had had students with moderate to severe disabilities on their campus. Almost immediately, many questions arose amongst general education students and teachers about my precious students....and I LOVED answering them. I was so excited when my administrator gave me the "go ahead" to spend some time in the general education classrooms for Down syndrome awareness month.

Today, I will be sharing a few ways that I helped raise awareness and educate general education students on my campus about disability. Obviously, each campus is different and what worked for me and my school, may not work for yours, but I hope to provide enough ideas and resources that you can find something that will work for you.

1. Schedule Classroom Visits: I sent out an email to all of the teachers on my campus and made sure to include my school psychologist and specialists. I arranged with several teachers to spend 15-30 minutes in the classroom doing a few activities and answering any questions that their students may have about disability. We had some authentic conversations and participated in fun activities. See the resources below for some great tips on how to lead the conversation!

2. Provide General Education Teachers with Resources: I also made sure to continuously provide general education teachers on my campus with email blasts containing cool awareness videos or tips that they could easily incorporate in the classroom when they had some free time.

3. Build Relationships with General Education Students: As a new teacher this can be difficult, but I try to be as involved as I can with the general education students on my campus. This could simply look like saying "hi" around campus and learning their name or it could look like being a volleyball coach or leading student council. I try my best to be seen on campus as a "cool" teacher so that students see my students in a positive light. I want my classroom to be warm and welcoming.

4. Build Relationships with General Education Teachers: This is another one that can be tricky simply because sometimes my breaks are at a different time than the general education teachers' breaks. I have been advised time and time again to make an "appearance" in the lounge as much as I can to build and grow relationships with my co-workers. This allows for you to easily ask for IEP attendees or mainstreaming opportunities without the awkward, "Who are you again?" (haha just kidding.) I also make sure to send out an email at the beginning of the year to arrange for mainstreaming minutes.

5. Open Up Your Classroom: I am a HUGE fan of reverse mainstreaming! At the beginning of the school year when I send out an email asking when PE, music, and art times are, I also let the general education teachers know that "their" students are welcome in my classroom. I currently have a few students that come into my classroom and teach an art lesson once a week. My students love it and the general education students get invaluable leadership experience.

5. Utilize the Resources that Have Already Been Created: There are so many brilliant minds that have already written disability awareness lesson plans. Utilize what they have created. No need to re-create the wheel. Here are some resources that I found helpful:

National Down Syndrome Society Lesson Plans

Autism Speaks Educational Tool Kit

If you have any questions or want to brainstorm some ideas for your campus, do not hesitate to contact me at delightfullydedicatedspeciaed@gmail.com.


  1. Our school does a fabulous "Buddies Club" where the students in our ABA program play board games and do crafts with typical students. It's a great way to socialize for the ABA students, and a great experience for our typical students. Our district also had a "Challenger League" where our special education students play basketball. It encompasses both middle schools and both high schools in our district. It is a truly special sight to see...

  2. I love that you became a special ed teacher after growing up with a brother with special needs! I have a sibling with fetal alcohol syndrome and he definitely played a role in my decision to go into special education. Most of my students are in the gen ed classroom for the majority of the day and I find it hard to address disability without calling them out specifically or making them feel overly different. I love your tips though!

    Years That Ask Questions


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