Tips for Working Safely with Students with Special Needs


Working with students with special needs can present unique challenges to school staff. Beyond the typical teaching demands, school staff also face the  width=possibility of injury. Two common causes of injury include:

  • Overexertion related to helping lift and transfer students with special needs.
  • Injuries caused by students, such as hitting, biting, and pulling.

It's important to be mindful of your own safety and do your best to avoid the possibility of injury and illness.

Tips for Avoiding Overexertion when Working with Students with Special Needs

Staff working in Special Education classrooms, especially those with medically fragile students or students with serious emotional disabilities, must have a positive mental attitude and clear understanding of their own physical abilities and limitations. These tips can help avoid common injuries related to overexertion.

  1. Stretch before starting work and throughout the day. In a regular workday, you may bend and twist your body many times. Those single movements add up and may lead to injury.
  2. Limit forward bending as much as possible. Alternatives include squatting down to the level of the student, putting one knee on the floor, or sitting in a small chair at eye level with the student.
  3. Follow the basic rules of lifts and transfers: plan the lift beforehand, go slowly, and always have a partner available to assist. Never perform a lift or transfer without proper training.

Strategies to Prevent Student-Related Injuries and Illness

Special Education staff members can sometimes, accidentally or otherwise, be injured by students with special needs or made ill by exposure to bodily fluids. These best practices can help minimize these risks and ensure your safety and that of your students.

  1. Ensure that the classroom environment is clear of clutter and obstacles, and keep items that can be used as weapons out of reach of students who could potentially be aggressive.
  2. Avoid clothing or footwear that may impede your ability to move quickly, and limit dangling earrings, name badges, neckties, and necklaces.
  3. Utilize protective clothing such as Kevlar sleeves, aprons, and gloves to protect against bites and scratches.
  4. Practice sound communication and behavior management techniques to help defuse conflict and potentially dangerous situations.
  5. Use standard precautions including hand washing and personal protective equipment whenever exposure to a student's bodily fluids is possible.

It's also important to follow your district's safety policies and procedures. And be sure to consult with the specialized staff on your student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team. Training and ongoing consultation are critical to keeping you safe.

By following classroom safety and behavior management principles, you'll be creating a better learning environment for your students with special needs, and helping yourself enjoy a longer and healthier career.

To help reduce the risks of injuries when working with students with disabilities, Exceptional Child offers a Working Safely with Students with Special Needs online professional development course.

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