As of 2020-21, 14.5% of all U.S. students were special education students (ages 3-21). That translates to more than seven million who need teachers with specialized training to help kids with physical, emotional, mental and behavioral disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that these students be educated with non-disabled peers to the greatest extent possible, in the least restrictive environment, and these apps and sites for special education can help.
When teachers improve their ability to engage and educate special ed learners, they’re simply fulfilling another version of individualized learning. Fortunately, in addition to graduate-level coursework, there are several high-quality online resources to help any teacher learn the theory and practice of working with kids with disabilities.
The following sites and apps provide lessons and activities for special needs learners, as well as professional development tools for teachers. All are free or modestly priced.
Best Sites and Apps for Special Education
Better Lesson Instructional Strategies
Explore a broad range of instructional strategies that, although diverse, all aim to support individualized learning. Choose from social-emotional learning, culturally responsive teaching, competency-based learning, and more. Within each category, learn how to plan, practice, and implement several related strategies. For example, SEL offers detailed guidance on self-regulation, self-awareness, and collaborative conversations. A rich resource for all teachers, not just special ed.
Hundreds of free learning materials for special ed, including customizable printable downloads and interactive games in math, science, sensory/art, and assistive technology. Simple to use, and no account is needed.
TPT: Free Special Education Lessons and Activities
Created, tested, and rated by your fellow teachers, these free special education resources are searchable by subject, grade, standards, and formats. Browse the handwriting practice, sight word activities, life skills, money math, and more to find exactly what you need for your classroom.
MakeBeliefs Comix for Students With Special Needs
Learn how teachers across the country are using MakeBeliefsComix to help students with a variety of disabilities—from autism to stuttering—learn and thrive.
Autism Circuit Tools
This site provides a diverse range of tools to help students make decisions, modulate their behavior appropriately, and understand consequences. Autism Circuit offers guidance and brief videos demonstrating how teachers can use tools such as choice boards in their classrooms. Other tools help students communicate, manage emotions, behaviors, and schedules.
Do2Learn is a nonprofit website providing free resources, tools, and activities to support educators in teaching children and young adults with special needs. The site includes interactive games, visual aids, and printable materials to engage learners of all ages and abilities. Educators can access a variety of lesson plans and curriculum ideas to create more inclusive and supportive learning environments.
Microsoft Learning Tools Immersive Reader
OneNote Learning Tools provides a free immersive reader to help students boost their reading skills. Want to try it first? Just enter your own text into the box and start reading. Choose male or female voice, font and text size, background color and line focus. Other features allow you to assign color to parts of speech and display words in syllables. Click on any word to view a visual representation and to hear the word spoken. Translates words and entire documents into dozens of languages. Very cool tool, and super easy to use!
Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities Adapted Literature and Lessons Nearly 500 classic, popular, and/or educational works of literature adapted for students with special needs. The works include digital books, movies, videos, music, and PowerPoint presentations that aim to help students with visual and other disabilities. Want to create your own adapted literature? Check out the Creating Your Own Adapted Literature Webinars explaining how to do so. Free, no account required.
Features 10 free mindfulness classes for kids, including activities, mindful movement, and read-alouds. Courses for educators cover mindfulness basics, how to implement mindfulness in the classroom, and self compassion (a must for teachers!).
Otsimo Special Education iOs Android
Developed by Zafer Elcik for his young autistic brother, the Otsimo app features a gamified, personalized curriculum for special education. Games focus on everyday basics such as clocks, weather and clothes as well as the alphabet, music, and colors. To view the app games, visit the website here. To play games, you’ll need to download the free app.
A suite of award-winning apps—Reader, Writer, Scanner—that provides text-to-speech reading, writing, and scanning capabilities in 30 languages.
A no-frills K-8 math practice site that offers thousands of interactive math lessons, from addition to geometry to statistics. It’s easy to use -- just click on any topic or lesson and start practicing. Lessons are served in small, attainable blocks, which aids in preventing frustration. Plus, kids get immediate feedback on their answers. Free, no account needed.
BoomCards Special Education Decks
Great collection of Boom Cards decks covering a wide variety of useful topics such as identifying public bathrooms, WH questions, verbs, modes of transportation, compare-contrast exercises, and more. Many are free or modestly priced, and all are sortable by grade, subject, and cost. Free account required. Want to learn more about how to use Boom cards? Check out What is Boom Cards and How Does It Work?
Autism Focused Intervention Resources and Modules
Free modules to help educators and caretakers learn about autism and evidence-based practices. Also available for $35 are continuing education credit modules that cover topics from cognitive behavioral intervention to video modeling.
Paths to Literacy Lessons and Materials
Fine collection of lessons, manipulatives, hands-on activities, videos, and more to support teachers who work with students with visual disabilities, including deafblind students and those with multiple disabilities
SENict Teaching Activities
Free downloadable exercises curated to aid young people in advancing their accessibility skills via assistive technology, encompassing switches, touch devices, pointing devices, and eye gaze systems. Download each exercise individually or purchase a convenient memory stick loaded with 600+ activities, training videos, and teacher supports for £25 (about $31 U.S.).
A well-designed, ad-free site that focuses on making reading and math fun for students pre K-3. Starfall’s founder Stephen Schutz struggled with dyslexia as a child and created Starfall to help kids learn to read—and learn to love learning. Art, music, poetry, riddles, and more keeps kids engaged in the interactive material. Four membership levels range from $35 annually for home use to $355 for a school membership. Each section also includes clearly marked free content, so it’s easy to browse the site and try it out without an account.
Reading Rockets Reading Intervention Videos
These highly instructive free videos feature literacy expert Linda Farrell working with struggling readers on specific reading goals such as mastering the alphabet, multisyllabic words, and blending sounds. Each video is accompanied by professional development guides as well as commentary by Farrell. Be sure to explore the entire Reading Rockets website for a wealth of additional literacy guides and resources.
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