This is the last of our series.  We will discuss learning disabilities, autism, and behavior differences.

Learning Disability

A learning disability is a disorder in which spoken or written language, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, or mathematical calculations is a struggle. That learner is typically one or more grade levels below the average child, and for that individual, learning is quite difficult. Milestones in motor skills and memorization are inhibited. If a teacher or trainer can provide activities using the learner’s strengths, increased visual and verbal directions, and hands-on experiences, the learner can experience success. Many people misunderstand students with learning disabilities and mistakenly characterize them as lazy, weird, and socially impaired. These persons learn differently, and the attuned teacher or trainer must realize that learners should work in their own ways.


Students with dyslexia have difficulty reading and writing. They often reverse letters and numbers in writing and read backward. The brain is confused by the ways letters and words are arranged. The reader may also skip, repeat, or miss letters and numbers when reading silently or aloud. This disorder is not corrected with eyeglasses. A teacher or trainer might find that verbal directions or pictures are better tools for these children. A tape recorder with directions is also effective.

These tips will help you accomplish your goal while giving students ownership over their learning.

Behavioral Disorder

Students with a behavioral disorder generally have motor abilities within acceptable limits of other children. They use to seek attention from adults by acting out, and use their disorder when they are frustrated or cannot communicate their feelings. They may be hyperactive, destructive, dangerous, impulsive, and at times inattentive. An environment with consistent rules, environment, and structure and fewer distractions and choices work best for this student. Allow him/her to have their own personal space and realize that they may not hear you if you force them to look at you while you are speaking. Positive reinforcement is most effective with this student, and a teacher/trainer must choose which behavior is important to correct at times.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral and developmental disorder. Individual has poor concentration, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, fidgets and squirms, is aggressive, defiant, disorganized, and can get very emotional. They often do not sleep well at night and have high energy and activity levels. Students can be helped with simplified directions, extended wait period when answering questions, and activities that are broken up into parts. It is important when working with an ADHD student to eliminate distractions, organize the learning space, and minimize background noise. Students could also benefit from a buddy and a smaller group when doing activities, written and picture rules, directions, and schedules. Changes in the schedule should be minimized. Give directions both verbally and in writing. A redirected word or counting down system is also effective. They also enjoy helping the teacher and do well when given responsibility.


These learners need a safe place to move and may use their bodies or another object to manipulate energy. They do better with individual sports such as track, gymnastics, and weightlifting. They make excellent assistants and do well with structured time and with using a timer to chart activities.

Social Skills Disability

These children or teens have difficulty with appropriate social skills. They may have another diagnosis such as mental retardation. They also suffer from ritualistic behavior.  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one of these disabilities. A chemical imbalance or genetic or neurological disorder can bring about OCD. These individuals may have trouble with space and tone of voice and may react at strange times. A stress or traumatic event can bring about OCD. They can also obsess about harming others or themselves. Compulsions are the urges to perform certain behaviors in response to the obsessions. These rituals seem to lessen the anxiety caused the by the obsessions. Some things include excessive hand washing or washing of other objects, repeating actions, a bad habit, obsessive speech, or counting to a certain number. These individuals have no control over the stopping and starting of obsessions and compulsions.  Redirection is effective and allows the child to try new things. These learners benefit from working on one skill at a time and, in that circumstance, have a high rate of success.

Autism Spectrum

Some learning differences such as autism can have a range of mental retardation to gifted status. Understanding these differences helps the teacher and trainer better understand how to work with and function with these disabilities.

Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome 

In autism and Asperger’s, the developmental disability affects verbal and nonverbal communication and is generally evident before age three. One out of every 300 children is affected by autism. The medical field has not narrowed down the cause of autism. Some studies suggest genetics, others suggest chemicals in the child’s environment or a vitamin deficiency, and others suggest the cause lies in dairy and gluten allergies. Students are not able to effectively communicate with one another; they are obsessed with repetitive activities and do best with a consistent, predictable daily routine. They also may have hyper- or hypo-sensitivity to people, materials, and objects. Often they enjoy doing activities by themselves. When working with these children, use pictures, provide a less stimulating environment, seek to introduce activities that will promote the student’s success, and offer two choices for activities instead of telling the child the way it will be done.  A classroom buddy can be effective in showing desire behavior. Use literal speech and concrete examples. Make sure you don’t use jokes, sarcasm, double meanings, or idioms. Autistic individuals often display egocentric behavior and may become obsessed or preoccupied with a particular topic or interest. An instructor, at appropriate times, must try to integrate that subject into the learning area.  Writing a visual schedule and practicing routines or desired behaviors prove effective this kind of student.

When working with students with disabilities, be as consistent as possible in your goals and expectations. Use clear consistent, explicit communication and break tasks down into smaller units to keep students from getting overwhelmed. Small steps can keep you focused on goals and minimize distractions. Repetition will benefit students. Routines and visual schedules work well with both special and regular education classrooms. Be patient and celebrate the small leaps. Use concrete directional words such a “first,” “next,” and “finally,” and explain who, what, where, and why in directions. Ask questions, and if possible, have the student repeat the directions in their own words. Increase wait time in your questioning and directions. Use agility dots, lines, markers to show specific boundaries.  Brightly colored balls or gym equipment add interest to the activity.  Try to minimize unexpected surprises and use white noise to block out distractions. Use a schedule with minimum changes. When working with an individual with disabilities, give those options with a basic plan of action in mind. These tips will help you accomplish your goal while giving students ownership over their learning. All students and adults with disabilities respond well to positive reinforcement and genuine praise. Good notes, phone calls home, token rewards, and extra privileges are proven to be effective forms of reinforcement for those with disabilities. Don’t expect perfection but…Be Positive! Be Creative! Be Flexible!



Cummings, Rhoda, and Fisher, Gary, (2003). The survival guide for kids with LD. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit

General Accommodations for Students with Physical Impairments

Lieberman, Lauren J. (2009). Strategies for inclusion: a handbook for physical educators.

Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities

Rouse, Pattie (2009). Inclusion in physical education. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

South Suburban Special Recreation Association, (2005). SSSRA staff and volunteer safety/orientation manual. Tinley Park, IL: SSSRA

Tips for Teaching High Functioning People with

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Christina Chapan

Christina Chapan

Christina Lee Steele Chapan is a certified personal trainer with four certifications from ISSA ACE, AFAA and SCW. She specializes with fitness for children and those adults and children with special needs. In addition to attaining her certifications, she is also a certified elementary and special education school teacher with a B.S. in Elementary Education, a minor in Biblical Studies from North Central University, an endorsement in Special Education, and an M.A. in Curriculum and Development from Governors State University. Her passion is for training the future of tomorrow. She is available for training, speaking and writing.
Christina Chapan

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