For special education teachers, providing instruction through distance learning can be especially challenging. From meeting social emotional needs, to establishing routine, to engaging students through their preferred learning modalities, there are a number of supports that special educators provide that can be difficult to replicate in a remote learning environment. So what are some ways special education teachers can continue to support their students, even from afar? We asked special education experts in the TpT community for their distance learning tips and advice.

4 Strategies for Supporting Distance Learning in Special Education

Encourage parents to create routines.

Students with special needs often thrive off of structure and consistent routines, and as a result, major changes can be hard for them to navigate. To this end, K-12 special educator Success In Special Ed encourages her students’ parents — particularly those in lower elementary — to set up a daily schedule while students are learning at home. “The uncertainty and confusing nature of ‘learning’ while at home may be difficult for students to grasp,” she says. “Setting them up with the use of a schedule, similar to what they use at school, may help them to feel more comfortable with at-home learning.” 

Create learning opportunities with what’s on-hand at home.

Autism Classroom Resources – Christine Reeve encourages teachers to think about what families can do with the materials they have on-hand to support language enrichment. “Going on scavenger hunts around the house and outside to find specific items and talking about them can be a good way to work on building everyday vocabulary,” she says. “If you are doing distance learning with video chats, you could have the student work with the parent to find the items and then talk about them in the video chat (or use visual supports for students to answer questions about them). This models for the parent how to enrich the students’ language skills, while also allowing you to assess the student’s performance.”

In addition, Check In with Mrs G recommends focusing instruction on teaching functional life skills that will support your students beyond the classroom. “Help them learn to become more independent with things like preparing their own meal, cleaning, and laundry,” she says. At home, students can use a checklist and tackle one task at a time, she explains.

Use digital resources to promote interactivity.

Students with special needs often respond well to learning that is interactive. We’ve heard that many teachers are looking for activities for students that include manipulative pieces that students can move using devices. The good news is, on TpT, you can now convert select PDF resources into digital activities in which students can manipulate moveable shapes, use pen and highlight tools to show their work, and more. You can also look for resources made for Google Apps™ to find interactive lessons that use Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, or Forms.

To help special needs students navigate digital resources, Noodle Nook suggests that teachers make a Google Drive folder for each student they service and share a link to that folder with each student’s parents or caregivers. “Then, add interactive resources to each student’s file folder to address specific IEP goals,” she says. “Also, because you are sharing the file, you can go in to see completion rates, score performance and take data, and then reset the activity so a student can repeat it.”

Address students’ social-emotional needs.

While teaching remotely, special education curriculum developer Susan Traugh recommends that educators prioritize the social-emotional needs of their students in addition to their academic needs. “Students cannot learn if they’re so stressed with world events that it’s all they can think about. And feeling powerless in the face of overwhelming information can lead to mental paralysis,” she says. “By acknowledging their very real fears and providing them with the tools to deal with those fears, we can free our students from panic and allow them to address the important skills necessary to continue their education remotely.”

Distance Learning Resources for Special Education

Here are a few resources that TpT Teacher-Authors developed to support some of the strategies discussed in the article:

Daily Picture Schedule Students with Autism and Special Needs Distance Learning by Success In Special Ed

You can convert this PDF into an interactive online assignment for students. Learn more.

Flexible Thinking Dealing With Change Interactive Worksheets Distance Learning by Success In Special Ed

You can convert this PDF into an interactive online assignment for students. Learn more.

Flexible Thinking Dealing with Change Middle and High School Distance Learning by Success In Special Ed

You can convert this PDF into an interactive online assignment for students. Learn more.

Life Skills Cooking by Check In with Mrs G

You can convert this PDF into an interactive online assignment for students. Learn more.

Household Chores Unit Life Skills by Check In with Mrs G

You can convert this PDF into an interactive online assignment for students. Learn more.

Monster Math Digital Drag and Drop Activity-Number Words to 20 Distance Learning by Noodle Nook

This is an Online Resource for Google Apps™. Learn More.


When supporting distance learning, the role of a special education teacher can become more challenging. As you figure out how you can best support your students in special education during remote learning, we at TpT are here to help you work through these new challenges by providing you with resources and tips from other special education teachers in the TpT community. For more ideas, be sure to check out the digital resources for special education on TpT to get inspiration from other educators.