Providing the Just Right Supports that Improve Outcomes for Students with Disabilities

by | Mar 2, 2018


Students with disabilities are diverse learners with remarkable exceptionalities that continue to challenge our expertise, stamina and resolve as educators, reflective practitioners, and families. As an educator and mother who raised a child with a disability, I must acknowledge the importance of providing the just-right supports that improve outcomes for students with disabilities. Having served as a successful teacher, academic coach, and principal among other roles, it hurt deeply to face the reality of not always proving successful at the most important job, a mother of a child with a disability.

A Personal Story – Raising a Child With a Disability

My daughter was identified as having a speech and language disability from early on. Later, it was determined that her primary disability was a specific learning disability that negatively impacted reading, mathematics, and writing. This qualified her to receive specialized instruction and the related service of speech and language therapies. Prior to entering elementary school, she received services through Infants and Toddlers due to a three-month premature birth. First, as a mother, I was admittedly overwhelmed with having to support my daughter’s health and academic performance over time. As an educator, I felt inept to understand and meet my own child’s needs. It took simultaneously learning on a personal and professional level (for almost a decade) to appreciate the invaluable rewards and benefits of providing just the right supports that improve outcomes for students with disabilities.

Just Right Supports that Improve Outcomes

As parents and educators, some of us unintentionally hinder children with disabilities from progressing at their individual rate with appropriate supports. Oftentimes, this is because we try to rescue them from feelings of sadness, embarrassment, pain, or labeling. We sometimes give students with disabilities too much support, simply trying to compensate for characteristics of their disability, negatively impacted areas of their disability or overall perceived deficits. It seems that the human element surfaces as we compassionately address children’s needs while building relationships with children with disabilities. However, we must caution and monitor ourselves from providing too much support that can serve as a disservice to children with disabilities. Hence, just right supports, gently giving each child with a disability enough support(s) to perform without the supports becoming a barrier to their performance. Barriers in the sense of not requiring the student to exercise, learn and experience their own capacity before we jump in and disable the process. It’s a very fine line, helping with the just right supports, one that we all struggle to maintain.

Just Right Supports for Students With Disabilities

Just right supports can make a significant difference for students with disabilities, increasing their levels of engagement in class among a community of learners. Students with disabilities will not struggle or proceed without appropriate challenges. Just right supports also encourages students with disabilities to show willingness and to readily participate in a class or in public, in an array of situations. The supports may offer self-pride and personal accomplishment with being able to accomplish something with the right amount of supports needed. Supports should enable functional tools and strategies for increased access to goals, standards and expectations. This gives students with disabilities autonomy with self-selecting and practicing what works better or best for them. Supports should not promote learned helplessness or cause frustration or anxiety. Associated negative feelings could eliminate motivation and disengage efforts. Students with disabilities must receive the opportunity to equitably partake in the world around them, make meaning of their experiences and continue to be active contributors of the community. Just right supports help to make this possible.

“Having just right supports improve outcomes for students with disabilities. Because students are able to put forth appropriate hard work and determination, without suppressing their abilities, gifts and talents.”

 With just-right supports, students with disabilities begin to learn and leverage strategies and tools that work best for them in addition to their accommodations and modifications as prescribed by their IEP, becoming more present and active in the development and appropriateness of their Individualized Education Program (IEP). Just right supports afford students with disabilities the opportunity to determine what supports they truly benefit from to help them achieve their goals and access the general standards-based curriculum.   

Apply Just Right Supports for Students With Disabilities

My gradual grasp of the power of just right supports was long overdue and costly. As an educator and parent of a student with a disability, applying the sensitive practice of just the right support to each student present trials. Fortunately, I developed a greater understanding of how to apply my insights, bettering the lives of students with disabilities I’ve served and my own child’s life. Providing just right supports nearly correlates to providing air for a child to breathe on their own in the environment versus being unnecessarily dependent on a ventilator with damaging consequences (if they can breathe with less support).

Just right supports potentially maximizes students with disabilities’ self-efficacy, confidence, and ability to take subtle and bold appropriate academic, social, and behavioral risks. Just right supports provide a proactive balance between dependency and appropriate challenges. In life, we experience needing supports at some point, and for those supports to become integrated assets, we must find the support useful and calibrate/recalibrate the supports to become just right, building a stronger independent foundation for our own growth and development. Awareness of the power of just right supports for students with disabilities makes certain we aren’t missing opportunities for just right supports in advocacy on behalf of students with disabilities. If your classroom, school, or district is struggling with providing the right supports, CSAS can help. Simply reach out to further the conversation.