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Although at first many teachers find the prospect of teaching a class that includes students with special needs to be an intimidating prospect, with the proper knowledge and preparation teachers can use this opportunity to create a rewarding learning experience both for themselves and for their class. Students with special needs provide us with an exclusive insight into how the human brain learns a foreign language. Because the numbers of students in the US with disabilities is rising at a staggering rate, it is highly likely that teachers will be expected to teach a class with mixed learning needs. According to a recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 7.66% of all students in the US are currently diagnosed with a learning disability, and another 6.69% are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (CDC). Autism spectrum disorders have increased even more dramatically in recent years. According to the CDC, “It is estimated that between 1 in 80 and 1 in 240 with an average of 1 in 110 children in the united states have an ASD [autism spectrum disorder].” In this paper I would like to examine how teachers of english as a foreign language can adapt their classes to meet the needs of students with learning disabilities and autism. Specialists in learning often break the learning process into three stages: input, processing and output. This paper will examine how modifications can be made in each of the three areas. Input is the stage in learning when the students receive information from the world around them. For some students this happens naturally, but students with disabilities often cannot use their senses the same way that others do. Some students cannot filter out extraneous stimuli (for example in a classroom they may hear the sound of the air conditioning at the same volume as the teacher's voice). Some students with autism have trouble combining what they are hearing with what they are seeing (for example, a student with autism may have to choose between looking at the teacher and listening to the teacher, even though looking away generally indicates non-attention.) For some students images may appear backwards or reversed (for example, b and d may be difficult to distinguish). Once the teacher recognizes that the breakdown in learning is because of an input problem, not because the student is being “bad” or does not want to learn, many problems can be solved. Here are a few suggestions. • Pair visual with auditory information, but give students a choice what they attend to. For flashcard drills, if the student is expected to orally drill with the class, he/she could be allowed time later to look at the cards silently. •Be prepared to give students specific advice about how to use their senses. A teacher could say, “Please put your eyes on the board now.” Or “Now we are going to listen to our friends. Please listen to Johnny now.” •Be aware of the effect of distracting stimuli. Some students should be seated away from the windows and doors. The second stage in learning is processing. This is what happens to the english language once it gets in the brain. For everyone processing a foreign language is difficult, but some students have additional difficulties. Some students' brains naturally “switch channels” more often, which makes them appear to not be paying attention to the teacher. Some students can process large amounts of new information, but for some students there is only limited “free space” in their heads and extra information is simply lost. Some students with autism have an amazing ability to store and remember information, but they cannot make relevant connections (for example if the class is learning the word “apple,” a student may become so fixated on the apple he had last summer at the school fair with his father, he simply cannot understand how bananas and oranges are relevant.) Many students will need additional time to sort through everything that is happening in their heads. It is important to realize that these students are not “dumb,” but rather that they are processing information differently. •For students who have trouble paying attention, make a channel changer to demonstrate when it is time to switch back to the “teacher channel.” •Some students may not be able to process large amounts of new vocabulary on a given day. Consider cutting vocabulary lists in half for these students. •Some students may have to practice new grammar structures more than others, and they would benefit from having additional homework assigned. •Highly structured tasks may be appreciated by students with autism so that it is clear how they are supposed to connect their information. Open ended, creative thinking tasks may pose a special challenge. •Allow students extra time to think. This can be accomplished by saying, “Johnny I am going to call on you next, right after Sarah gives her answer.” Students can also be encouraged to write their answers down before the teacher calls on them. •Listening and taking notes is too much for some students. Consider allowing struggling students to ask a friend to take notes for them. The last stage in learning is output. Most of us know other “normal” adults who sometimes fail to adhere social norms in this area, and this is where students with autism differ noticeably from their peers also in their native languages. In english as a foreign language classes, we typically use spoken and written output to know if a student has understood what we have taught. Some students cannot quite express their understanding in one of the modalities. Some students have motor or sensory impairments that make writing an arduous task. Some students find speaking to be arduous, and some students speak readily but do not express what they really mean to say. Here are a few tips to overcome some of these problems. •Be flexible with how students can express their understanding of the material. •Consider letting some students use a scribe, that is another person who writes down what the student wants to say. •Avoid singling out students and putting them on the spot, as embarrassment makes output even harder. •Look into the use of technology to help students. Wonderful programs can assist students in overcoming their limitations. An open-mind and a bit of flexibility can open the wonderful world of english as a Foreign Language to all students. With the help of a teacher who believes in them, students with special needs can achieve amazing feats and the teacher may find the inherent reward to be worth ten times the trouble. Source "Developmental Disabilities Increasing in the US." CDC Data and Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 06 2011. Web. 4 Nov 2011. .